MEMBER ALERT: ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS proposes listing for 1 sage grouse subpopulation

This is the biggest threat to our off road recreation that is looming. The Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) says that the mitigation efforts that will be proposed to save the sage grouse habitat will impact both casual and permitted use of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and BLM Carson District Lands. N4WDA will attend the FWS, Forest Service and BLM meetings and be involved in the opposition to the listing of this subpopulation. The following is a well-written article from that describes the threat. Larry Calkins ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS proposes listing for 1 sage grouse subpopulation Scott Streater, E&E reporter Greenwire: Friday, October 25, 2013 The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list as threatened a subpopulation of greater sage grouse found only in central California and southwest Nevada and to designate 1.8 million acres as critical habitat to help save the bird. Today’s proposal involves a genetically unique population of grouse found only in the two states, commonly referred to as the “bi-state” or Mono Basin population. And it includes a special rule that Fish and Wildlife says will provide increased flexibility for land-management practices that are intended to benefit this distinct grouse population. The bi-state population occurs at the westernmost periphery of the imperiled greater sage grouse’s 11-state range in a fragile area of sagebrush steppe that is particularly vulnerable to landscape disturbances. An estimated 5,000 bi-state grouse remain from a historic population that probably exceeded twice that number, according to Defenders of Wildlife. The proposed listing comes as the service is evaluating whether to list the much larger greater sage grouse population as threatened or endangered. An advance notice in today’s Federal Register says the bi-state population warrants listing as a threatened species mostly because of threats from invasive plant species and wildfires that destroy the sagebrush steppe habitat that the grouse depend upon for survival. Other threats include expanded renewable energy development in both states, according to the advance notice, and urban development, mining and climate change. A second advance notice states that the 1.8 million acres of critical habitat would encompass federal, state, tribal and private lands on four separate units in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, and in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California. While critical habitat designations do affect how public land is managed, this designation would not have any impact on private landowners or any uses of lands that do not require federal permitting or funding, according to the service. Fish and Wildlife will formally post both notices in Monday’s Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day public comment period ending Dec. 27, said Jeannie Stafford, a service spokeswoman in Nevada. “We applaud the combined efforts of our federal, state and local partners, as well as private landowners across the species’ range, to address the significant challenges faced by the bi-state [population] of greater sage grouse,” Ren Lohoefener, regional director of Fish and Wildlife’s Pacific Southwest Region, said today in a statement. “These efforts are essential to the recovery of the species. Today’s proposal, based on the best available science, should not deter us from continuing our work on behalf of the bi-state [population] and its important sage brush habitat.” But today’s announcement concerns some industry and private property rights observers. Among them is Kent Holsinger, a Denver natural resources attorney who has represented the energy and agricultural industry in litigation involving the Gunnison sage grouse. Holsinger questioned the science of breaking up the larger greater sage grouse population into so-called distinct and genetically unique populations, like the bi-state population. “Any two individuals are ‘genetically distinct,’ so I’m quite dubious about making management decisions that affect people’s livelihoods on such a basis,” he said in an email. He also said a threatened listing often interferes with on-the-ground conservation work being done by private landowners and local governments. “That’s a theme that even FWS and other agencies have recognized in the past,” he said. “Coupled with the critical habitat [proposed designation] and the FWS rulemaking that would emasculate the ability to consider economics in such decisions, and I’d label this bad news for California and Nevada,” he said. But conservation leaders said the designation is long overdue. Groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Institute for Wildlife Protection have petitioned the agency over the past decade to list the bi-state grouse population. “The sage grouse in the Mono Basin are truly imperiled, not only by the same habitat loss and degradation facing every other sage grouse population, but also by their small numbers and isolation in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of sagebrush in the West,” said Mark Salvo, federal lands policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife. “With only a few, scattered populations [of] sage grouse remaining in the Mono Basin, it’s important that the service moves forward to conserve the bi-state grouse.” But a threatened listing does not mean the bird will be saved, Salvo added. “While we applaud and support the service’s proposed listing of the Mono Basin sage grouse as threatened, it is premature to determine whether the proposed rule will in fact conserve the sage grouse, since the devil will be in the details of the local sage grouse conservation plans that the rule relies upon,” he said.

Eldorado NF 42 Trails SDEIS Appeal Decision

On June 17th, 2013, then Eldorado National Forest Supervisor, Kathryn Hardy issued her Record of Decision (ROD) on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).  As posted on this website (June 17th), 42 trails in the Eldorado NF were closed due to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and others in Federal Court found that the Eldorado NF was negligent in its travel planning in relation to where trails cross wet meadows. Subsequently, all but 18 meadows were found to not be in conflict with S&G 100 (the regulation/specification concerning these wet meadows). These trails include Deer Valley/Clover Valley, Barrett Lake, Strawberry Pass, Emigrant, and others that are used, because of their proximity to our present membership, very heavily.  This puts an awful burden on the Rubicon Trail as it is the viable alternate. Supervisor Hardy selected Alternative 3 of the 4 alternatives proposed in the SDEIS, which left the remaining trails closed until mitigation efforts are concluded (on a trail-by-trail basis).  N4WDA supported Alternative 1, which left the trails open while mitigation efforts moved forward. On July 26th, N4WDA sent a letter to the days NF appealing this decision appealing several points in the ROD.  These included:
  • An alternative 5 was studied which was never made available to those who commented on the SDEIS.
  • The Deer Valley/Clover Valley trail was listed as medium in recreational value, whereas, it is probably the most used trail in the Eldorado NF.
  • The ROD mentioned the need to study the impact of the Yellow-Legged Frog and the Yosemite Toad as to whether their habitats might be an issue in the reopening of these trails (another issue not discussed in the SDEIS).
On August 7th, a meeting of the appellants was held at the Eldorado NF Headquarters in Placerville, CA.  Don Spuhler, N4WDA Secretary was in attendance.  Of the appellants, 10 were OHV-oriented, either representing groups or themselves; several were known preservationists; several county governments were included; and the remainder were of unknown sympathy. On August 8th, the new Eldorado NF Supervisor, Laurence Crabtree, issued an Informal Disposition Agreement which all of the appellants were asked to sign, thereby removing the appeals.  This agreement varied greatly from the discussion at the Placerville meeting, obviously being influenced by the Forest Service lawyers in their desire to keep things from returning to court. Over the next 45 days this agreement was amended several times, but never addressed our primary goals.  N4WDA asked for the following to be added to the agreement:
  • A drop-dead date for the completion of the mitigation efforts for each trail.  If this date was not met, the trail would reopen while the mitigation efforts continued.
  • The Forest Service would meet with interested appellants at the site of the alleged violation of S&G 100 to explain the hydrologists report and to discuss whether volunteer labor from our OHV organizations might be utilized to save time and money and to convince us to support grant applications for mitigation funds.
  • Remove a requirement that each of the 42 trails be evaluated twice yearly to determine if environmental damage has been occurring.
Of our three suggestions, the only concession was that after the mitigation efforts were designed, “where appropriate, corrective actions will be implemented with the help of the OHV community, the Environmental community and other volunteers under the direction of the Forest Service”. As time ran out for the appeal, many emails were traded among the OHV community, and, it became readily apparent that if we did not sign off on the appeals, it would only further delay the reopening of the trails. A subsequent email from the Eldorado NF verified that all appellants had signed off on the agreement. All in all, a very small win for the OHV community, but a very large opportunity to have learned about the process. We can now presume that these trails will reopen, one at a time, in at least three more years and, if funding is a problem, longer than that….. Larry Calkins

New Wilderness in Lyon County

About a year ago, we attended a fund-raiser reception for Senator Dean Heller at the Peppermill Hotel Casino in Reno, NV. Among the attendees were representatives of the various OHV user groups such as Blue Ribbon Coalition, the Trail Pac, several land use advocates and motorcycle groups.
Senator Heller spoke about his background, including the fact that his father owned a Jeep and that the family had many enjoyable outings in that vehicle.  He told of his absolute commitment to multiple use of public lands. However, further in his speech, he told us about the need to convey a parcel of BLM administered land to the City of Yerington so that it could be used for infrastructure to support the Pumpkin Hollow Copper Mine.  When this mine is in full operation, it will employ about 100 workers at an average wage of $70,000 dollars per year.  Since Lyon County has been severely victimized by the current economic downturn (recession), these jobs are desperately needed.  At that time, he said that he feared that Senator Harry Reid would demand creation of a Wilderness Area in exchange for supporting a bill conveying this land. On Monday, June 17, the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee heard S. 159 by Senators Heller and Reid which supported the land exchange and designated 48,000 acres as the Wovoka Wilderness, mostly in the southern Pine Nut and Sweetwater mountain ranges. For years, Lyon County residents, user groups and other land use advocates overwhelmingly opposed the creation of Wilderness in this area.  The Lyon County Board of Supervisors even passed a resolution that there would be no further Wilderness in Lyon County.  Subsequently, because of the need for the land conveyance and the jobs issue, the Lyon County Supervisors had to retract their resolution. Also considered was the House of Representatives bill by Representative Steven Horsford and supported by Representatives Joe Heck and Mark Amodei which is the companion bill to S. 159. Harry Reid, in his usual underhanded way, is holding this important land transfer for RANSOM. At this time N4WDA is awaiting maps showing the boundaries of this Wilderness area. Therefore, although N4WDA is fundamentally opposed to the creation of designated Wilderness areas, we are taking a wait and see position until the entire impact of this bill is understood. Larry Calkins, President N4WDA

Eldorado NF 42 Trails SDEIS Decision Released

This morning, Eldorado NF Supervisor Kathryn Hardy held a telephone conference with interested user groups, including the Nevada Four Wheel Drive Association, to reveal her decision on the 42 Trails Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). These trails have been closed subsequent to a Federal court order that closed these trails that cross or are in close proximity to wet meadows.  On May 26, 2111, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Lawrence Carlton found that the Eldorado NF failed to comply with the National Forest Management Act when it designated 42 existing wheeled motorized vehicle routes that cross portions of meadows with their 2008 Public Wheeled Motorized Travel Management Decision. The order stated that the Forest Service failed to complete a required Riparian Conservation Objective analysis for standards and guidelines in its Land and Resource Management Plan pertaining to segments that cross wet meadows. The Eldorado NF then developed its SDEIS which was released on February 19 day comment period. These 42 trails include the Barrett Lake Trail, Deer Valley/Clover Valley trail, Mormon Emigrant/Long Valley Trail, Strawberry Pass trail, to name a few.  These are the trails closest to the Reno/Carson City/Gardnerville areas and have some of the best Sierra Nevada 4 wheeling. The SDEIS provided four alternatives for comment: Alternative #1 (the Proposed Alternative):  Open the closed trails and perform mitigation of the meadow  issues later as time/money allows. Alternative #2:  These trails remain permanently closed. Alternative #3 (the Preferred Alternative):  Prioritize the problems and reopen the trails as these problems are mitigated. Alternative #4:  The trails remain closed until all problems on all trails are mitigated. N4WDA submitted a comment letter supporting Alternative #1 as did virtually the entire off road community. The 45 day comment period closed on April 8th make a decision on which, if any, of the alternatives would be chosen. Today’s telephone conference revealed that 24 of the 42 trails have been designated as open due to no problems with meadows or that the wet meadows were on private land, etc.  This left 18 trails designated, but remaining closed.  She stated that she had chosen Alternative #3, the Preferred Alternative, and that the closed trails have been prioritized and that the mitigation efforts will move forward as time and money allow.  She did say that volunteer help had been offered and would be considered. She estimated that these trails, or portions of trails, would remain closed this year.  It is very likely that it will be several years before all of the remaining trails are reopened. The Nevada Four Wheel Drive Association asks that all 4 wheel drive enthusiasts respect the decision of the Eldorado NF and comply with the closures.  Maps are available at Forest Service Stations showing current closures and open 4 wheel drive and OHV opportunities. Larry Calkins, President N4WDA
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