The greater sage-grouse is an iconic wildlife species that needs large expanses of undeveloped sagebrush habitat to survive.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently determined that the greater sage-grouse would not need protections under the Endangered Species Act if the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service took proactive steps to conserve sage-grouse habitat on public lands. Those agencies combined manage roughly half of the remaining greater sage-grouse habitat.
In response, the BLM, which controls mineral resources on all public lands, has proposed protecting 10 million acres of sagebrush focal areas (SFAs) in the West (3.8 million acres of which are in Idaho) from the threat of mining. It has temporarily withdrawn these areas from new hardrock mining claims for a two-year period while a longer-term proposal is being considered.
Under the Mining Law of 1872, federal agencies are required to prioritize mining over all other uses. Without the BLM’s proposed withdrawal, mining would always be prioritized over sage-grouse and other values such as healthy watersheds. Given that there aren’t a lot of mineral resources underneath sage-grouse habitat in Idaho, the BLM’s proposed action would not affect very many responsible mining ventures in the future.
Large industrial projects-like open-pit mines-can displace sage-grouse and other wildlife and pollute scarce water supplies. So the BLM’s proposed 10-million-acre withdrawal is an important proactive measure in making sure that sage-grouse protections can be implemented with any certainty. Still, the BLM’s own national technical team recommended withdrawing a larger area to include all priority habitat.
Sage-grouse wouldn’t be the only winners from the proposed mineral withdrawals. Sagebrush steppe habitat provides homes for over 300 species of wildlife-including big game such as mule deer-and unparalleled backcountry recreation opportunities.
The BLM recently extended the public comment period on this proposal until Friday, Jan 15. The Idaho Conservation League will submit comments. You can help by submitting your own comments. We also hope to turn supporters of protecting sage-grouse habitat out to public meetings in Boise and Idaho Falls later this month.