If the Bureau of Land Management is serious about saving Greater sage-grouse, the agency would stop issuing grazing permits that expand livestock impacts in the bird's habitat.
Today, Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Interior’s approval of fifteen sheep grazing permits for the Big Desert Sheep allotment located partly within Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument. In addition to renewing the grazing permits without fully considering relevant environmental impacts, the Bureau of Land Management’s decisions expand the grazing season by 40 days and allow 17 miles of new fencing in priority habitat for Greater sage-grouse. Fences pose known collision risks for the low-flying bird and changes to the season of use result in new impacts during critical breeding and nesting periods.
There are nine active sage-grouse leks on the allotment and 21 additional occupied leks within 5 miles of the allotment. Lek attendance has greatly declined from around 50 males per lek in 1951 to just 10 males per lek in 2013. These declines necessitate immediate protections, something the BLM's decisions fail to provide. Instead, the decisions allow livestock on the allotment earlier in the spring and later into the summer, and authorize the creation of a 5,800 acre “forage reserve” that can be used by grazing permittees when conditions elsewhere are too poor to continue grazing. The forage reserve would require new fencing within close proximity to sage-grouse leks.
The decisions also permit new range developments, including a corral, a well, troughs, and other infrastructure, which would provide water sources and increased perches for ravens and raptors that prey on sage-grouse chicks and eggs. In the meantime, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has proposed to kill nearly 1000 ravens in the same area to reduce predation. The agencies are working at odds with each other, and the ecosystem is suffering from a failure to implement a truly bold vision for reducing threats to sage-grouse: removing livestock grazing impacts.
Today's lawsuit aims to expose the flawed basis for BLM's decision-making and force the agency to change its ways when it comes to renewing sheep permits in sage-grouse habitat.
Images of the Big Desert allotment are online here.