A 37-page response letter to the Draft Land Use Plan Amendment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Nevada and Northeastern California Sub-region for the Greater Sage Grouse, including a few amendments, was approved by the Board of County Commissioners at the Jan. 21 meeting.
Connie Simkins, secretary of the N4 Grazing Board, said the federal draft statement is 800 pages long and the response letter was looking at given areas where the EIS statement, “either responded to, or ignored comments this County has already made to this issue.”
She said the six-page letter, which the Commissioners support, “did not contain anything new that we have not brought to you in prior efforts. Our comments are consistent with those we have already made.”
Simkins noted some of the comments say, “We don’t believe the Ely Land Use Plan needs to be changed. We believe it is valid the way it is, and what is in the document now ought to be listened to (by Fish and Wildlife) in their own document, in their own Record of Decision.”
Issues that were addressed in the comments stressed Pinyon-Juniper conservation, predator control, no new wilderness areas, wild horse management, and infrastructure for the development of renewable energy.
On the topic of renewable energy, the response letter states Lincoln County is opposed to developing wind energy in critical habitat for sage grouse, in particular the Wilson Creek area and White Rock Mountains.
Lincoln County also opposes development of solar energy outside of the previously designated Dry Lake Valley North Solar Energy Zone.
BLM recently reduced the size of the Solar Energy Zone from 25,000 to 20,000 acres, and Simkins said the County is recommending if any mitigation needs to be done, it should happen on the 5,000 acres removed from the Solar Energy Zone, not somewhere else.
Simkins also said some proposed alternatives to the Draft EIS, “have been brought forth by people who do not have a clear knowledge of the ground, and we are asking those not be considered, and instead, strongly support the alternative plan proposed by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.”
Simkins said the County’s involvement with Resource Concepts in Carson City did play a major role in helping shape the Governor’s alternative plan.
Commissioner Paul Donohue said, “We are all suffering the ramifications of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife saying they might list the sage grouse as an endangered species, and everyone being overly frightened over a threat about, not what has happened, but rather what might happen. What we’re really doing in acting that way, is giving them what they want.”
Donohue said he has been told by the BLM they are treating the sage grouse now as if it is listed on the endangered list, when it is not. He said he fears sage grouse hunting areas, and cattle grazing areas, will be closed because the government says it’s just thinking about listing the bird.
A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department in March, 2013 stated, “After a thorough analysis of the best available scientific information, the Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the greater sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, the Service has determined that proposing the species for protection is precluded by the need to take action on other species facing more immediate and severe extinction threats.
“As a result, the greater sage-grouse will be placed on the list of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act Protection. The Service will review the status of the species annually, as it does with all candidate species, and will propose the species for protection when funding and workload priorities for other listing actions allow.”
Commissioner Kevin Phillips proposed the comment letter, which he said does highlight the issues of major concern, needs also to include amended comments that, “the Board of County Commissioners in Lincoln County is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens here, and to the degree that any of the requirements mentioned by the County are not met in this plan, we will take exception and involve litigation.”
Simkins said she thought that more emphasis needs to be given to helping the Fish and Wildlife have a more complete understanding of the economic impacts listing the sage grouse as an endangered species would have upon the County.