The federal government hosted meetings in Boise and Idaho Falls on a controversial proposal to restrict new mining claims in key sage grouse habitat. Public comments may be submitted by January 15th at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article below was written by John O’Connell of the Capital Press.
IDAHO FALLS — Members of Idaho’s mining industry are concerned that proposed federal land-use restrictions to protect sage grouse in designated habitat go too far and were developed with too little public input.
Bureau of Land Management officials say the mining restrictions were key in the U.S. Fish and Service’s recent decision against listing sage grouse as an endangered species. If such habitat protections aren’t implemented, officials say a listing could still result, extending new burdens to protect the bird to private land and impacting a broad range of activities, such as ranching.
The BLM and U.S. Forest Service held public scoping meetings on Dec. 15 in Boise and Dec. 16 in Idaho Falls on a proposal to stop all new mining claims within 10 million acres of focal sage brush habitat in the West, including 3.6 million acres in Idaho. The withdrawal affects so-called locatable minerals — which include metals such as gold, silver, copper and molybdenum. The action requires a full environmental impact statement, given that filing claims is authorized by Congress. Valid claims made prior to Sept. 24, when the proposal was printed in the Federal Register, will be grandfathered in.
Public comments may be submitted by Jan. 15 at email@example.com. Input will help shape a draft EIS, planned for release by next winter, triggering additional public meetings. The prohibition on new claims would be up for renewal in 20 years.
The BLM and Forest Service implemented changes affecting mining, grazing and other activities within focal areas when they updated 98 Western land-use plans, addressing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s prior concerns that the government lacked adequate regulatory mechanisms to protect sage grouse. The bird’s status will be reviewed every five years.
BLM special projects manager Brent Ralston explained grazing permits within focal areas will be prioritized for review, and permit changes may be necessary where bird populations are declining.
Ethan Lane, who advocates for the cattle industry as executive director of the Public Lands Council, argued that in some cases the land-use plan changes are more restrictive than a listing would have been. Furthermore, he said sage grouse numbers have increased 63 percent during the past two years.
“A not-warranted decision isn’t truly not warranted if the conservation ledger is being balanced on the backs of public lands permittees,” Lane said.