County says military jets and wildfires threaten sage-grouse | Government and politics


ELKO – Elko County Commissioners have unanimously approved comments to the Office of Land Management for upcoming changes to the sage-grouse plan, asking the government to review conflicting habitat designations and impacts of forest fires on the bird.

Guidance comments are used to suggest areas of study for environmental impact statements. Elko County’s five-page report includes statements to the BLM that “address new and relevant scientific information” and fill in the gaps “to get a complete picture of the sage-grouse’s place in the sagebrush ecosystem. and its relationship with other users…”.

“The need for further research is clear,” Elko County said. “Previous amendments to the sage-grouse plan emphasize that ‘conservation efforts for the species and its habitat date back to the 1950s’.”

Prepared by Curtis Moore, Elko County’s director of natural resources, the comment also asks the agency to review the results of seven decades of rules and regulations to protect the species – efforts that do not appear to have affected the bird population.

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Elko County Natural Resources Manager Curtis Moore explains scoping comments sent to the Office of Land Management on sage grouse habitat on February 2, 2022.

“If nearly 70 years of conservation efforts have still resulted in declining populations, then it is necessary to know exactly how many sage-grouse there should be, as well as where they lived in the past and what types of uses of the lands they coexisted with,” Moore wrote.

Elko County has embarked on several sage-grouse planning cycles and added new subjects to the standard subjects, Moore told commissioners on Wednesday. Specifically, socioeconomic data from the University of Nevada, the Nevada Economic Assessment Project from Reno, and a review of the history of the undiscovered sage-grouse in Elko County. by the county or used by the federal agency in its previous actions.

“What Elko County can’t find, and what every prior sage-grouse ruling hasn’t resolved, is what evidence there is that sage-grouse was widespread in this area before European colonization,” Moore wrote.

“Elko County could not locate any research suggesting that the sage-grouse, a large, slow-moving bird, was exploited as a food resource on a large scale by Native American tribes,” Moore continued in the report. “This is important because, if the goal of this process is to restore the sage-grouse to its historic range, accurate data regarding its historic range is needed.”

“The biggest change” in the sage grouse conversation is the recent expansion of Mountain Home Air Force Base’s training range, lowering the cap to 100 feet, Moore said Wednesday.

He noted conflicting data from previous environmental impact statements indicating that sage-grouse are disturbed by more than 10 decibels. However, the changes would bring jet engine noise levels to around 139 decibels without the sonic boom in flight at 100 feet.

“One of the things I think they should look at is that the training range goes beyond what was previously designated as prime sage-grouse habitat,” Moore said. “Now there are going to be regular jets on it.”

Moore said the question now is whether this area is “still prime habitat for sage-grouse because that designation has the highest [and] most restrictions on this? He wondered if the federal agency could change the rules to clarify the contradictions.

The report observed that “the government rejects this concern by pointing to a 1988 bobwhite quail study to claim that there will be no effect on sage-grouse, while admitting that the birds will be flushed in response to the noise”.

The impact of wildfires and invasive annual grasses on sage-grouse habitats should also be considered. The county is asking the agency to “investigate the increased threat of wildfire from invasive annual grasses and provide alternatives to manage this threat, including targeted grazing.”

Moore pointed to statistics from 2009 through 2021, where approximately 1.5 million acres of Elko County land was burned by wildfires, affecting both livestock and wildlife, “as well as the destruction habitat for game birds such as sage grouse and chukar”.

“During the 2018 wildfire season, wildfires alone cost BLM $24 million to contain. The current system is unsustainable both ecologically and fiscally,” the report says.

Commissioner Rex Steninger encouraged council to read the comments and noted that “after 70 years of conservation, all we have seen is massive decline. It just makes me smile. I always talk about it at meetings at the state and federal levels.

He went on to explain the irony he saw in the situation, referring to an “old saying that this can only happen in a country that was founded by geniuses and currently run by idiots.”

“What a unique situation,” observed Steninger. “We have an invasive bird that [the government] feels threatened, its main predator is a federally protected crow and we go out to hunt and kill it for sport every fall.

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