Friday, March 09, 2018

Almost 100,000 public comments supporting sage grouse conservation appear to be missing from federal report

Two sage grouse roosters challenge each other for hens in Idaho. (Associated Press photo by Bill Schaefer)
Public comments are an important way for the federal government to assess citizens' feelings about agency proposals, but a Bureau of Land Management report summarizing public sentiment on sage grouse conservation released Friday appears to be missing about 100,000 comments.

"Sage grouse neared an endangered-species listing two and a half years ago, but federal and state plans to protect sage-grouse habitat staved off a listing," Heather Richards reports for the Casper Star Tribune in Wyoming. "The decision was hailed as a successful collaboration between states, federal agencies and private citizens, particularly in places like Wyoming, where a listing would have had dire impacts on the economy."

But last fall the administration ordered a review of the sage grouse habitat management plans to see if they were hampering energy development. The public was invited to comment on the issue by submitting comments electronically or by mail.

"Altogether, roughly 267,000 individuals submitted comments . . . at the behest of about 20 environmental groups, they say," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post. "But the BLM tallied far fewer comments received for its 'scoping' report: About 170,000 individuals submitted comments, according to a memorandum by David Bernhardt, the No. 2 top official at the department, sent to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke."

Phil Hanceford, conservation director of the Wilderness Society, told Grandoni the missing comments were "a glaring reminder that BLM has some pretty serious transparency issues." BLM spokesperson Don Smurthwaite told the Casper paper, "We're aware of the concern and are checking to ensure that all comments and issues are represented in the final scoping report."

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