WASHINGTON – Today, 13 Senators wrote a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke to request information about the agency’s role in the Trump Administration’s review of 2015 plans to protect the imperiled greater sage-grouse.
In a Federal Register notice last month, the U.S. Forest Service signaled that the agency may be seeking potential changes to the 2015 plans. Because modifying the plans could have a significant economic impact on rural communities, the Senators asked for details on the agency’s review and requested an extended comment period.
The Federal Register notice is the latest move in a larger review of the 2015 protections that is being conducted across the Trump administration’s public land agencies. In June, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a Secretarial Order mandating a review of the 2015 protections. Following the order, four Senators asked Zinke for details on the review to ensure it would not undermine conservation outcomes.
Today’s letter, led by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, was also signed by Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
The full text of the letter is below. A PDF of the letter is available here.
December 20, 2017
Dear Chief Tooke:
We write to request details regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) role in the Administration’s review of efforts to manage and protect the greater sage-grouse, which was led by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and prompted by Secretary Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3353, issued on June 7, 2017. Furthermore, we seek additional details regarding a November 21, 2017 Federal Register (FR) notice outlining USFS’ intention to seek comment on potential changes to the 2015 forest plan amendments (2015 plans) designed to safeguard the greater sage-grouse and its habitat. Finally, we write to ask for an extension on the USFS’ comment period outlined in the November 21, 2017 FR notice.
The greater sage-grouse population that was once estimated to be as large as 16 million has today unfortunately been reduced to between 200,000 and 500,000 birds. To address this precipitous decline, an unprecedented coalition of ranchers, farmers, sportsmen, conservationists, community members, and federal and state government agencies came together to forge a consensus vision to help protect the bird. Over the course of a decade, this broad group crafted and refined land-use plans to protect the species, while also protecting rural economies. The solutions brought forward by these diverse interests are thoughtful, hard-won, and deserve appropriate deference in any review or potential revision of the 2015 plans. Because of the profound economic and cultural implications of upending this range-wide solution – including a potential Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse that could result from USFS and BLM changes to the 2015 plans – we ask that you respond to the following questions and requests for information by January 12, 2018.
The November 21, 2017 FR notice regarding potential land-use plan amendments involves 15 national grasslands and forests spread across 11 western states. Given the potentially vast acreage involved, complexity of these plans, and wide variety of interested stakeholders, we request that you extend the deadline for comments by at least 45 additional days. Thank you for your consideration and your willingness to work with us and address our questions.