The Bureau of Land Management released its draft Environmental Impact Statement for its land use plan in Nevada and Northeastern California concerning greater sage grouse. The public will be allowed to make comments on the draft EIS until Jan. 29, 2014. With assistance from the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service and 25 cooperating agencies, the draft EIS describes and analyzes six alternatives for managing approximately 17.7 million acres of BLM and Forest Service-administered lands in Nevada and Northeast California.

The draft EIS lists alternative D as the preferred alternative. Alternative D is aimed at balancing resources and resource use among competing human interests, land uses and the conservation of natural and cultural resource values, while sustaining and enhancing ecological integrity across the landscape, including plant, wildlife and fish habitat.

“That’s the alternative that we as the BLM and Forest Service, sitting down together with our resource specialist, developed to meet the needs not only of the management and protection of sage grouse and sage grouse habitat, but also to provide the other multiple uses that we manage on the public lands,” Schell Field Office Field Manager Paul Podborny said. “That was our balance that we came to.”

Alternatives B, C and F feature placing conserving sage grouse habitat as the number one priority, Podborny said while alternative E features recommendations from the state.

Associate District Manager Michael Herder said the BLM is hoping that the public will study the alternatives and send in lots of comments before the final EIS and Record of Decision is made in 2014.

“We’re hoping for a lot,” Herder said. “This is a very crucial issue and has the potential to affect a lot of the things that go on in public lands and therefore, affect a lot of people out there. Many members of the public will be affected by the decision that’s made, whther that decision is to approve one of the alternatives of this plan or to list the sage grouse (as a threatened or endangered species) if the Fish and Wildlife Services determines that’s their course.”

Podborny said there will be a meeting in Ely on Dec. 10 (time and place to be determined) where the public can ask questions and receive help in forming comments. Podborny said he suggests that people give reasons for why they support or do not support a particular alternative or aspect of an alternative. The BLM has the opportunity to approve a different alternative or to take pieces from multiple alternatives in its final EIS as they work to balance what they expect to be a variety of opinions on the subject.

“Really, that’s the challenge of what we do,” Herder said. “The Federal Land Policy and Management Act is what governs what we do in this agency. That act challenges us to balance those competing uses. And balancing the desire for conservation with a desire to use those public lands, that’s always been our challenge as long as we’ve been operating. There’s no question it’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Based on the comments received, Herder said the BLM will look to find the most ideal alternative for its final EIS.

“What we’re looking for here is an alternative or pieces of different alternatives assembled into one package that’s going to provide the necessary mechanisms to continue to protect sage grouse habitat while balancing the opportunity or folks to make other uses out on public lands,” Herder said. “That may mean there are some restrictions on those uses or changes to the way we implement various policies for folks to use public lands. That’s our challenge.”

Podborny said the BLM’s goal is to have a ROD by the end of next September because of a court ordered deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Sage Grouse as an endangered species or not.

The draft EIS is available online at Herder said chapters two and four list the draft alternatives and its impacts on different resources. Comments can be submitted to the BLM through Jan. 29. Comments made after Jan. 29 will not be accepted. As the BLM expects a large number of comments, Herder said the BLM welcomes any and all view points on the alternatives.

“This is to ensure the methods that we’re proposing for protection is sufficient to continue to provide habitat for sage grouse out on public lands,” Herder said. “We believe, as is evidenced by the document itself, that there are things that we can do to mitigate impact to sage grouse and still allow for certain specific uses to go on out there.”