Jerret Raffety, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Federal land managers in Utah are among those in several Western states rolling out proposals that involve significant changes to what happens on the millions of acres they control — all with an eye to saving the imperiled greater sage grouse.
In Utah, the plan set to debut Friday encompasses nearly 4 million acres of land held by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, and involves changes to 20 distinct areas that also include portions of Wyoming.
The greater sage grouse, about the size of a football, is an elusive and finicky breeder, experiencing a dramatic dwindling in its numbers because of urban encroachment, wildfires, energy development, invasive species and proliferation of juniper trees. Its most serious threat, overall, is the splintering or fragmentation of sagebrush covered range where it lives — changes brought on by all those factors.
For urban dwellers along the Wasatch Front, the persistent concern over the species' survival and elaborate planning efforts to help the bird may appear to be an excessive undertaking with few direct impacts. But BLM officials warn otherwise.
"All Utahns need to pay attention to this issue," said BLM Utah spokeswoman Megan Crandall. "If you turn on your lights at night, you need to pay attention. If you enjoy the great outdoors, you need to pay attention. If you recreate or use electricity, it affects you."
Crandall's office has rolled out a more than 1,000-page document addressing proposed changes in the way the land controlled by the federal government could be implemented, all with an eye toward helping the species recover. It has also scheduled eight open houses to help the public understand the approaches detailed in the plan and what is at stake.
Set from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., those open houses are:
• Nov. 19 at Snow College in Richfield.
• Nov. 20 at the Heritage Center Festival Hall in Cedar City.
• Nov. 21 at the Panguitch City Library.
• Dec. 4 at the Vernal city offices.
• Dec. 5 at the Carbon County Event Center in Price.
• Dec. 10 at the Salt Lake City Main Library, conference room 4.
• Dec. 11 at the Randolph Senior Center.
• Dec. 12 at Snowville Elementary School.
Crandall and Utah sage grouse BLM lead Quincy Bahr urged attendance at those meetings, where BLM staffers can guide the public on the complexities of the plan.
"We will help break it down because it is a huge document," Bahr said. "These meetings will help them consume it, digest it and comment on it."
In the draft environmental assessment, the agency considered a wide range of alternatives, ultimately settling on one that rejects what the state had proposed and landing on one that is more restrictive.
"There will be parties that will not be thrilled," Bahr conceded, but added with emphasis, "It is only a draft."
The plan addresses what the BLM proposes to do to help protect the bird — conservation measures that will be taken into account by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which ultimately will make the decision in late 2015 whether to add the species to protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.
In March 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service set off a flurry of action in 15 Western states when it announced the bird warranted a listing, but it was precluded from doing so because of higher priorities.
Utah began drafting its own plan after cobbling together a statewide working group made up of land-use managers, wildlife biologists, elected officials and various other interested parties.
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