By Pat Caldwell
The BLM should extend the comment period on a draft management plan for protecting sage grouse habitat, Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in a letter delivered Thursday to the federal agency.
Walden, who represents Oregon sprawling 2nd Congressional District, including Baker County, said in his letter to BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze that a large number of people who will be directly impacted by the management plan have not had enough time to review the proposal, which is longer than most novels.
Walden proposes in his letter to extend the public comment period by 30 days.
At issue is the BLM's draft sage grouse environmental impact statement, or DEIS. The agency's draft proposal is designed to protect the bird so that it is not thrust under the umbrella of the federal Endangered Species Act.
"Many Oregonians have expressed concern to me that their desire to partake in the process has been hindered. People have arrived at public meetings only to have the hard copies of the DEIS gone within minutes," Walden said in his letter.
Walden said while the 1,120-page BLM document is accessible on the agency's Web site, many people in rural areas of the state do not have high-speed Internet service.
"The file is so large, it can take hours just to download the document, many more days to review, digest and distill the impacts," Walden wrote.
He said the sage grouse issue is so important to so many people in the heartland of Oregon that careful, thoughtful consideration is necessary on any management plan.
"Making sure they get this right is very important," Walden said Thursday in a phone interview.
Walden said his staff learned the hard way how difficult the DEIS proposal was to access via the Internet.
"My staff took an hour to download it," he said.
Walden said it is vitally important that voters across the region secure extensive knowledge about the proposed blueprint.
"So they can have a chance to fully understand why it's being proposed," he said.
Walden agreed that it is in everyone's best interest to keep the sage grouse from falling under the mandates of the Endangered Species Act.
"If the sage grouse is listed it will make the spotted owl look like child's play because it affects the whole West," he said.
Walden called the Endangered Species Act a "broken promise" and said management plans that could impact the rural West should be based on good data and a process of scientific peer-review.
Walden said he feels that the BLM will consider his request seriously.
"I'd hope, and considering the magnitude of this issue, that this would be a simple request to grant," he said.
The Baker County Board of Commissioners have also written a letter asking BLM to extend the comment period.