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Oregon Cattlemen’s Association nears agreement on Sage grouse conservation
Agreement would help pave the way toward the 2015 conservation plan
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association will soon reach an agreement that will enable voluntary efforts to protect sage grouse habitat on grazing lands.
February 04, 2013
Cattle producers have nearly reached a landmark agreement with federal land use agencies that will benefit ranchers and sage grouse conservation efforts alike.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must complete a sage grouse conservation plan by early 2015 in order to keep the bird off of the endangered species list.
To aid that effort and protect rancher interests, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) is working with the BLM and USFWS on an agreement that will help producers work within the confines of the conservation plan. It will allow cattle ranchers to conduct voluntary conservation measures in hopes of making the changes before they are required.
“It wouldn’t require it,” said BLM Public Affairs Specialist Jeff Clark. “People with (grazing) permits could continue to do whatever they wanted, or they could volunteer to do that.”
OCA President Curtis Martin said their organization seeks to not only act in a way to benefit cattle producers, but also protect sage grouse and other species. He hopes that the proactive approach that the agreement promotes will help meet both of those goals.
“Maybe if we changed a water trough arrangement or something like that, it would be more conducive to the sage grouse being able to rejuvenate,” he said.
Clark said that the voluntary actions of cattle producers combined with the ongoing conservation efforts carried out by the BLM and USFWS could keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.
Regardless of that possibility, Martin stressed that the agreement does not guarantee anything. Consequently, he wants the agreement to help cattle ranchers align their practices with whatever regulations they might encounter.
All of the involved agencies have worked well together during the process. Clark noted that the OCA sought the agreement in order to gain some “predictability and a way of trying to get ahead of the curve.”
The three agencies had actually planned to sign the agreement on Tuesday and announced a ceremony to commemorate the occasion. As it turned out, the OCA wasn’t ready sign because of some minor concerns in the contract language.
“OCA is still committed to the agreement,” Clark said, “and once they have gotten all of the items that were confusing or potentially objectionable together, their representative along with ours and the Fish and Wildlife Service are going to sit down and hash it out.”
Martin agreed, and expressed disappointment that the OCA had not found the concerning language before the signing date.
“We all did our best to get it out there for people to really review and to have these conversations earlier than the weekend before the signing was going to occur,” he said, “but it didn’t happen that way.”
Clark said the agreement could be ready for signatures again some time this month. Meanwhile, work continues to complete a sage grouse conservation plan. The BLM has held all of their public meetings and released a scoping report last year. They plan to issue a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) this spring or summer.
The agreement with the OCA would only enhance those efforts, Clark said.
“Having that is almost like icing on the cake.”