Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Sage grouse could benefit from Bush plan

Portion of budget request would enhance BLM habitat


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Sage grouse habitat throughout southern Idaho could get a boost if President George W. Bush's proposed $1.8 billion fiscal year 2008 budget for the Bureau of Land Management is eventually approved by Congress.

Included in the budget, which is almost $59 million higher than last year's request, would be $15 million to implement the BLM's new Healthy Lands Initiative.

The initiative is designed to maintain energy access throughout the West while protecting wildlife and habitat.

The BLM manages 258 million acres, mostly in 12 Western states, including Alaska.

The $15 million would be divided among six focus areas, including southern Idaho. The other areas include southwest Wyoming; parts of New Mexico; southwestern Colorado; Utah; and lands along the borders of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.

Barry Rose, a spokesman for the BLM in Idaho, said southern Idaho would receive about $1.8 million, which would be used primarily to combat invasive weeds and grasses, to seed native plants and improve riparian habitat.

"The purpose is basically to improve sage grouse habitat," he said.

Much of the work would be done in conjunction with local sage grouse groups, of which there are seven in southern Idaho.

Sage grouse are found in 11 Western states, including Idaho. Although their numbers have been on a steady decline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in January 2005 that the species was not at such a risk to warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Rose said their numbers have stabilized in Idaho and that part of the purpose of the Healthy Lands Initiative in the state is "to avoid a listing by improving habitat."

The president's fiscal year 2008 budget for the BLM also proposes nearly $143 million to "ensure that the agency continues to provide dependable, accessible energy from public lands in an environmentally responsible manner," according to a news release from the BLM. An additional $3.1 million would be used to beef up the agency's inspection and monitoring practices, allowing for an additional 1,572 inspections by 2009.




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