by Samantha White
Alan “Chip” Dale, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) High Desert Region manager, and SageCon Coordinator Jamie Damon attended the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held July 1) to discuss the proposed Oregon Administrative Rules.
The rules establish ODFW’s policy for the protection and enhancement of greater sage grouse in Oregon. They also incorporate and supplement portions of the 2011 Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Oregon, which sets population and habitat management objectives, and defines and governs ODFW’s core area strategy. Additionally, the rules advance sage grouse population and habitat protection through a mitigation hierarchy and establish a mitigation standard for impacts of development actions in sage grouse habitat.
The proposed rules state that sage grouse must be managed statewide to maintain or enhance their abundance and distribution at the 2003 spring breeding population level (approximately 30,000 birds during the next 50 years.) Regionally, the Burns District Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is to maintain or enhance sage grouse abundance and distribution at approximately 4,300 birds.
ODFW’s habitat management goals include:
• maintaining or enhancing the distribution of sagebrush habitats within greater sage grouse range in Oregon;
• managing those habitats in a variety of structural stages to benefit greater sage grouse, while reducing threats and promoting resilience;
• avoiding development actions in sage grouse core, low-density, and general habitats that adversely impact sage grouse habitat or sage grouse use of those habitats.
“Development action” is defined as any human-caused activity subject to regulation by local, state, or federal agencies that could result in the loss of fish and wildlife habitat.
Containing very high, high, or moderate lek density, “core areas” are mapped sagebrush types or other habitats that support greater sage grouse. “Low-density” areas contain low lek density, and “general habitat” is occupied (seasonal or year-round) habitat outside of core and low-density habitats;
• limit the extent, location, and negative impacts of development actions over time within sage grouse core, low-density, and general habitats. In core areas, direct impacts from human-caused disturbance will be limited to no more than 3 percent of any Priority Area for Conservation (PAC) and at a rate of less than 1 percent during a 10-year period.
“PACs” are key habitats defined by state sage grouse conservation plans or through other sage grouse conservation efforts. In Oregon, core area habitats are PACs;
• require compensatory mitigation for direct and indirect impacts from developments within sage grouse core, low-density, and general habitats. Ensure that such mitigation provides a net conservation benefit to sage grouse and their habitat by providing an increase in the functionality of their habitat.
The habitat management objective is to manage at least 70 percent of greater sage grouse range for sagebrush habitat in advanced structural stages. The approximately 30 percent remaining (which includes areas of juniper encroachment, non-sagebrush shrub land, and grasslands) should be managed to increase available habitat within greater sage grouse range.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said he didn’t like the rules’ use of the word “disturbance” in this instance, especially considering that there’s a 3 percent disturbance cap.
“Aspen groves are not a disturbance,” he said.
Dale replied that the 3 percent disturbance cap relates to human development.
Grasty asked, “What development? What are we screwing up?”
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said percentages are difficult to define, adding that the “no net loss” parameter is much more measurable, definable, and acceptable.
Core area approach to conservation
ODFW’s core area approach addresses greater sage grouse management from a conservation biology perspective that identifies the most productive populations and habitats. The department will develop and maintain maps that identify core area habitats necessary to conserve 90 percent of Oregon’s greater sage grouse population. ODFW will also develop and maintain maps identifying low-density habitat.
The rules state that developers must mitigate adverse impacts (both direct and indirect) to sage grouse and their habitats in sage grouse core, low-density, and general habitat. Mitigation is comprised, in hierarchal order, of avoidance, minimization, and compensatory mitigation.
Barbara Cannady commented that the mitigation hierarchy “prices people out of doing anything.”
“The ordinary person is just dead in the water,” she said, adding that private landowners will be unable to develop their own property. “It’s not about the bird,” she said. “It’s about taking private property rights.”
Several others expressed concern regarding the potential implications of the proposed rules.
Harney County Planning Director Brandon McMullen asked how often lek statuses will be updated.
Dale replied that he doesn’t believe core areas will change, as the attributes that make up a core area aren’t expected to change.
Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels said, “You try to avoid core. You try to avoid low-density. You look at the map of Harney County, and what’s left? Really, what’s left? People look at it and say, ‘I’m not going to Harney County. I’m not going through the process.’”
Nichols said, “This whole deal has taken motivation out of anyone doing basically anything. It’s so restrictive.”
He added that the consequences are dire for the community.
“The message here is don’t come to Southeast Oregon. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for us to survive this,” Grasty said.
“Oregon has had the strictest land use laws for decades,” Nichols added. “This is again about land control and further restricting what people of this community can do. End of story.”
“We’re frustrated too,” Damon replied. “We’re trying to figure out what the best leg is Oregon can stand on. This is the best that we’ve come up with. We’re wrapped up with 11 western states with a [potential Endangered Species Act] listing.”
She said the Oregon Administrative Rules are part of what will be presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the agency that will make the listing decision), adding that the state can either put together a case or wait and see what happens with the listing.
Nichols replied, “People like you try, and I appreciate what you’re doing, but, bottom line, it’s not about the bird. It’s not going to be good for the bird because the right things are not being done, and it’s not going to be good for our community. Single-species management is not good for ecology.”
Randy Whitaker of Harney Electric Cooperative Inc. pointed out that sage grouse can still legally be hunted.
Bill Wilber, a local rancher and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association representative, asked, “What the hell’s going on here? We’re going to be run off the range, and you’re still shooting sage grouse?”
Dale replied that it’s the most regulated and conservative hunt in Oregon.
Wilber added that predators are the greatest problem for sage grouse.
“You need to address it,” he said. “Do it.”
Both Dale and Damon admitted that there’s still some work to do on the rules.
A public hearing regarding the proposed Oregon Administrative Rules will be held July 22 in Burns
The court also discussed a letter (dated May 7) that Grasty wrote to the BLM on behalf of Harney, Lake and Malheur counties regarding the Proposed Plan Amendment Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Greater Sage Grouse.
Grasty stated that substantial changes were made between the draft and this proposed final EIS without the input of the Oregon counties, and he requested that the BLM:
• provide the cooperating county agencies specific information on the changes, impacts and purpose that is sufficient enough for them to review and comment consistent with both their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) cooperating agency role and Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) consistency and coordination roles;
• extend the 30-day comment period to review the EIS before it’s issued; and
• write a formal letter to all affected counties requesting a start to FLPMA coordination and consistency reviews.
A response came in the form of a letter (dated June 25) that was signed by Deputy State Director Theresa M. Hanley on behalf of Oregon/Washington State Director Jerome E. Perez.
Hanley noted that the BLM provided a “track changes” version of the proposed plan, and she’s “confident that the BLM’s efforts since [Grasty] wrote [his] letter have helped to address this first request.”
She explained that the request to extend the cooperating agency review period was denied “because the schedule associated with this planning effort cannot accommodate such an extension.” However, she noted that the counties have an additional opportunity to provide input during the 60-day Governor’s Consistency Review, which ends July 29.
Regarding the request for formal letters, Hanley wrote, “All counties with sage grouse habitat were invited to participate as cooperating agencies in this effort and have been invited to participate several times in the process up through May of 2015. There is no formal ‘review’ requirement as you suggest during coordination under FLPMA…Therefore, the BLM will not be sending any correspondence out to the counties in addition to what has already been provided.”
Regarding Hanley’s letter, Grasty said, “I’m not going to belabor it because it makes me so angry.”
In other business, the court:
• discussed the Harney County Deputy’s Association union contract during a special meeting on June 30. No decisions will be made until the final contract is presented to the court;
• decided during its June 30 special meeting to change from Citycounty Insurance Services to SAIF Corporation for its workers’ compensation coverage;
• discussed the memorandum of understanding that Grasty signed with PARC Resources to prepare an analysis of the impact of the EIS for Greater Sage Grouse on the regulatory responsibilities of the county under Oregon land use law.
Grasty explained that the goal is to compare the EIS with land use plans to determine whether they’re consistent.
“If they are inconsistent and we determine we should be appealing the EIS, it also gives us a basis to do that,” Grasty said;
• reviewed and discussed the preliminary engineering report for the Juntura Cutoff Road with Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella;
• discussed the contract and auto lease agreement for Harney County Senior and Community Services Center for Dial-A-Ride transportation services with Director Angie Lamborn. Grasty signed both documents;
• received an update from Wilber concerning the Arrowhead Plaza project;
• discussed nuisance abatement properties. Grasty will meet with county counsel regarding this matter;
• received bids from Pape Machinery and Western States for a loader for the county road department. Drushella will provide his recommendations during the next county court meeting;
• received a notice from Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin stating that an oral auction for saw timber will take place July 22;
• discussed Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding;
• received a copy of a Linn County resolution in the matter of supporting Second Amendment rights. Nichols requested that the court make a declaration showing Harney County’s support for the Second Amendment. Grasty will ask county counsel to draft a statement or resolution to be presented to the court for consideration;
• briefly discussed the upcoming Association of Oregon Counties Summer Summit that will be held in Bend.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, July 15, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.