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Public comment period on sage grouse plan coming to a close

May 30, 2014

Mono County Supervisor Larry Johnston (above) was the only resident to provide comments on the proposed threatened species and critical habitat designation for the bi-state segment of the greater sage grouse species at Thursday’s public hearing. Photo by Charles James

About a dozen Eastern Sierra residents, representing both Inyo and Mono counties, attended the final public hearing on a proposal to list the bi-state distinct population of sage grouse as threatened and create nearly 2 million acres of critical habitat to help the bird recover.
Despite the sparse turnout, two local leaders, Mono County Supervisors Larry Johnston and First District Inyo County Supervisor Linda Arcularius, spoke on the matter.
Thursday’s meeting was the final public hearing on the proposed sage grouse designations. The deadline for comments is June 9.
The threatened species proposal, if adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will include designating approximately 1.86 million acres of critical habitat for the species in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, and in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California. While the critical habitat covers much of south east Mono County, in Inyo, it reaches across the White Mountains and the valley floor east of U.S. 395, including areas between Bishop and Big Pine.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Ted Cook, supervisor of the Nevada State Office of the USFWS, which is responsible for the Eastern Sierra from the Nevada border in Mono County to Owens Lake in Inyo County, said that, if approved, the critical habitat designation “does not affect land ownership and will not result in closure to all access and use.”
Cook explained that private property rights will not be impacted by the proposed designation if it is approved, unless the property owners seeks federal funds or grants for property improvements or projects.
Through the lengthy comment period, which opened November 2013, Cook said the USFWS seeks scientific information, new information on population trends, comments on the scope of the rule, the impact implementation may have on rangeland and cattle grazing, objections to specific areas proposed to be listed, impacts on meadows and impacts on recreational use.
Reading a statement that he also provided at Tuesday’s public hearing in Minden, Nev., Johnston said that the Mono County Board of Supervisors has found a study completed early this year in Montana that suggests that grazing is a compatible use of land in sage grouse habitat.
“With proper management of grazing, it can be beneficial,” Johnston said. “Far more than continued litigation.” Johnston added that if the designation does cut off grazing or recreational opportunities in the Eastern Sierra, the “future is fraught with litigation.”
Johnston said that the Mono Board of Supervisors is encouraging the USFWS to reject the threatened species proposal and the critical habitat designation in favor of a cooperative approach to conservation that would include local stakeholders, the California Fish and Wildlife Services and the USFWS.
Arcularius said that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors will make its official comment before the June 9 deadline, but wanted to wait until Thursday’s meeting to hear how residents feel about the proposal.
In addition to the extended comment period, the USFWS approved a six-month extension on the final determination of whether to list the sage grouse as a threatened species. The final listing determination will be published on or before April 28, 2015.
Scientific information regarding these proposals will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on June 9, and may be submitted at the public hearings and by one of the following methods:
• Electronically, via the Federal eRulemaking Portal, at www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R8–ES–2013–0042 and FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072, which are the docket numbers for these rulemakings. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. Comments may be submitted by clicking on “Comment Now!”
• Hard copy, via U.S. mail or hand delivery, to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R8–ES–2013–0042 and FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
A copy of the proposed rules that were published on Oct. 28, 2013, and other information about the Bi-State DPS of greater sage grouse are available at www.fws.gov/nevada/, www.regulations.gov, or through the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office at (775) 861-6300.

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