Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Group releases grouse recommendations

Parts of county designated ‘core’ habitat


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A committee appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to help preserve sage grouse habitat on public lands has identified part of Blaine County as "core" habitat for the threatened birds.

The Sage Grouse Task Force submitted a series of draft recommendations to the governor on Friday that could fend off a federal Endangered Species Act listing for the bird.

Such a listing could prohibit grazing, and, according to a news release from the governor's office, "devastate southern Idaho's rural economy."

The 38-page report recommends designating three types of sage grouse habitat across the state: core, important and general. The types of habitat come with different management strategies with varying level of restrictions regarding grazing and development.

The most restrictive, the "core" habitat type, covers 5.7 million acres across southern Idaho and contains 67 percent of the state's known leks, or sage grouse mating sites. That type of habitat exists in a band along the border of Blaine and Lincoln counties, as well as a portion of Blaine County along the Camas County border.

The report recommends that development in core habitat areas be restricted to existing projects, and that existing projects' footprints cannot increase in size by more than 50 percent.

The only exception to this no-development clause would be if a newly created Sage Grouse Commission deems a proposed project has a high value to the state of Idaho and cannot be accomplished outside of the core habitat area.

The regulations apply to U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands inside the designated habitat zones.

About 9.5 million more acres across the state have been designated as "important" and "general" habitat zones, which limit, but do not prohibit, new development.

The recommendations can be found at www.fishandgame.idaho.gov and will be available for comment for a two-week period starting in late June. A final report is planned for July.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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