Sage grouse plan: Long, important

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 03, 2014 07:19 am

In the grand tradition of federal government documents, the BLM’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) outlining possible strategies for managing sage grouse habitat in Oregon is of daunting length.

At 900 pages or so, it requires strong arms to heft the paper copy, and a muscled microprocessor to open the pdf version.

But also in common with some other federal treatises of even greater mass — the Affordable Care Act, for instance — the sage grouse plan could have significant effects that aren’t obvious from a cursory reading.

Which, let’s be honest, is about all most people have the time and inclination to invest.

We’re pleased, though, that the Baker County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a work session for this evening to discuss the sage grouse issue, in advance of a pair of public meetings BLM will have later this month.

Tonight’s county session will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Baker County Events Center, 2600 East St.

Although Baker County has a tiny slice of Oregon’s sage grouse habitat — about 6 percent, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife — federal protection for the chicken-size bird could have a much larger effect locally than that small percentage suggests.

The 6 percent figure is misleading because the vast majority of Oregon’s sage grouse habitat is in three southeastern counties — Harney, Malheur and Lake — that are all much larger than Baker County.

Baker County’s small share actually covers about 1,062 square miles in the county — a bit more than one-third of the total area.

Moreover, the sage grouse habitat, in most cases, is also land where cattle graze.

Although grazing doesn’t harm sage grouse habitat as much as, say, clearing the sagebrush and building subdivisions would, it’s quite possible that grazing in some areas would be reduced to protect sage grouse habitat.

That’s a big deal in Baker County, where raising beef cattle is the biggest sector of the economy.

We encourage residents to attend one of the local meetings, learn as much as they can about the BLM’s proposals, and submit comments.

Those meetings are scheduled for Jan. 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Baker County Events Center, and for Jan. 23 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Durkee Community Center.