From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 23 - September 2, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Lek traveled, road closed

by Cat Urbigkit

The Bureau of Land Management appears to be using a far-from-consistent approach to sage grouse conservation in the Pinedale Field Office area.

Recently the agency had a portion of the Mesa Road fenced and reclaimed, shutting off access to a portion of a public road that's been in place for decades. The road was re-routed a few miles into an area of natural gas development along the Pinedale Anticline before joining back up to the original Mesa Road.

BLM Natural Resource Specialist Dessa Dale said that road was not supposed to have been improved since a sage grouse lek straddles it, but improvements were made, so corrective action was needed.

Dale said the road surface was removed, the ground was ripped and fences were erected to prohibit traffic from using the area. Dale said the roadway will be reseeded this fall and will be reclaimed back to its original two-track status and reopened for public use.

That's one standard for grouse conservation, but another standard seems to be used elsewhere.

In the Jonah Field, the BLM allowed two natural gas well locations to be erected over the top of sage grouse leks. Leks are protected during the breeding season, but this protection isn't year-round. These two leks were not even recently surveyed for grouse activity but the wells and associated facilities "were permitted based on the inactive status of the leks at the time of development."

The environmental consulting firm that does monitoring for the operators noted: "Well pads and facilities are located on the lek 5 and lek 15 sites, and it is unlikely that birds will return to the leks in the foreseeable future. Thus, no further monitoring of these two lek sites is proposed."

Other conservation efforts haven't faired well either. Two artificial nesting structures were erected in the Jonah Field in the fall of 2001 to provide habitat for ferruginous hawks that may be impacted by continued development, but the structures have never been used. So the BLM may now require two more such artificial structures be erected as well.

Another tactic used by the BLM to protect sensitive species such as sage grouse and ferruginous hawks is to prohibit the public from accessing the wildlife-monitoring reports. This way, specific locations of sensitive wildlife occurrences are protected. The well sites being build atop grouse leks and the failure of the artificial ferruginous nesting structures are a few of the items revealed in the reports that the public is generally not allowed to see.

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