Will new USGS report impact Mono?
USGS report contemplates new sage grouse buffer zone.
A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report recommended that oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects be kept more than 3 miles away from Greater sage grouse breeding ranges. That radius would equal a circle around the “leks”—sage grouse mating grounds—covering 30 square miles. The report suggested a maximum buffer of 5 miles.
According to the Associate Press, “A 3-mile buffer for the birds represents a much larger area than the no-occupancy zones where drilling and other activity is prohibited under some state and federal land management plans.”
For instance, Montana and Wyoming have adopted management plans that call for a no-surface occupancy zone of six-tenths of a mile around breeding sites, or an area of a little over one square mile.
The USGS made no management recommendations, and agency scientists said the buffer distances were for guidance only. The report is part of an effort by State and Federal officials to comply with a court-ordered Sept. 2015 decision regarding the creation of recovery plans, or alternately, an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing for Greater sage grouse.
Recovery plans, or an ESA listing, would affect 160 million acres across 11 Western states, including Nevada and California.
Sage grouse populations have declined over the past several decades due to loss of habitat by wildfire, residential building, and public land uses such as livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling. The Washington Post writes that much of the birds’ sage-brush range is already being drilled for oil and natural gas, if not dotted with solar and wind farms.
The Post notes that “Environmentalists say protecting the sage grouse and its habitat is crucial to saving many more species, such as the pronghorn and the pygmy rabbit, that call the high desert home. “
Randi Spivak, the public-lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called sage grouse “an umbrella species … sort of a canary in a coal mine.”
Here in California, Mono and Inyo County are home to the Mono Basin sage grouse, a distinct population that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed for an “Threatened” ESA listing in 2013. The USFWS simultaneously proposed designating about 1.9 million acres of critical habitat for the bird.
What the USGS report will mean to Mono and Inyo County, as well as Western counties with Greater sage grouse habitat, remains unclear.