BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A 16-member task force appointed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to figure out a way to dissuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing sage grouse as an endangered species has submitted its recommendations to the governor.
The Sage Grouse Task Force on Friday recommended limiting transmission lines, wind and solar energy plants and creating new measures for ranchers. The task force also recommends splitting Idaho's sage grouse habitat into three zones.
"The task force members have done a great job putting together options for protecting sage grouse without the draconian restrictions that would be required by an endangered species listing," Otter said.
If Otter approves the document, it will be sent for consideration as part of the National Greater Sage Grouse Land Use Planning Strategy being developed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined sage grouse deserved federal protection, but other species were higher priorities. A recent legal settlement now gives the agency until 2015 to decide the bird's status — threatened or endangered or not in need of federal protection.
The 38-page report recommends designating core, important and general habitat for sage grouse in Idaho, each having different management strategies with different levels of restrictions concerning development and grazing.
The core habitat would be the most restrictive and cover about 5.7 million acres across southern Idaho. The task force said that habitat includes 67 percent of the state's known sage grouse mating sites, called leks.
The task force suggests that development in core habitat be restricted to existing projects that cannot increase in size by more than 50 percent.
An exception would be allowed if a newly created Sage Grouse Commission decides a proposed project is important enough to the state and can't be built outside the core sage grouse habitat.
Another 9.5 million acres would be designated important or general habitat, limiting but not prohibiting new development.
Ken Cole of Western Watersheds attended some of the task force meetings and said he doubts the task force's recommendations will pass scientific scrutiny and potential legal challenges.
"If the BLM doesn't honestly address the impacts of grazing on sage grouse, I'm sure we're going to go back to court, and I'm sure we'll win," he said.