The Virtue Flat Shooting Range
is a BLM lease held by PRSC since 1968.
The Range is inside the Baker Sage Grouse Priority Area for Conservation (PAC).
Public land use within PAC's is subject to local, state, and federal rules for protecting sage grouse habitat.
Oregon PAC boundaries are established by ODFW, but BLM also has their own sage grouse habitat maps and boundaries.
BLM consults with ODFW on matters pertaining to wildlife in Oregon, but
BLM policy is determined by more than just ODFW recommendations.
PRSC is attempting to convince BLM
that these lease stipulations are not necessary because they will not improve sage grouse habitat in Virtue Flat.
- Hwy 86 is the predominant human disturbance in the
northwest corner of the Baker PAC. The Range is within 0.4 miles of Hwy
86. Sage grouse abandon habitat within 2 miles of highways, and don't
back. Even when no development or human activity is present along a
sage grouse will not make productive or successful use of habitat
near highways. (References provided at the end of this document.)
- When human disturbance drives human-wary wildlife out of
habitat, banning disturbances in the morning and evening while allowing
disturbances to continue for the remainder of the day, is not an
intelligent or effective strategy for convincing disturbed wildlife
to return to disturbed habitat.
- Sage grouse populations were comparatively stable at Virtue
Flat for about 30 years prior to the arrival of West Nile Virus in
about 2004. The Range was constructed in 1968. The highway was
constructed in 1917. There is no evidence to suggest that human
activity at the Range had any measurable impact on sage
grouse at Virtue Flat in the decades preceding the arrival of
- The proposed new lease restrictions are pointless because they will not achieve any
The BLM Mission describes a "multi-use" approach to "maximize opportunities for commercial, recreational, and conservation
activities" and to "support traditional land uses such as responsible
energy development, timber harvesting, grazing, and recreation,
including hunting and fishing."
PRSC seeks balanced consideration from BLM. Saddling us with ineffective "conservation restrictions" is neither balanced
- October 2022 - BLM informed PRSC that it was time to renew
the lease. BLM Land Law Examiner Shelli Pence toured the Range with
- December 2022 - BLM invoiced PRSC for 2023 annual rent; PRSC paid the invoice.
- August 2023 - BLM presented new lease terms to PRSC.
- September 2023 - The PRSC Membership voted to ask BLM to remove two new sage grouse stipulations from the lease.
- BLM invited PRSC to a meeting in Baker: Spaugh, Asst Field Manager Sandra Tennyson, Specialist Melissa Primus.
- After the meeting, BLM Field Manager Sarah Sherman called Spaugh to inform PRSC that the August
lease offer was rescinded pending revision to add noise control
- Spaugh built this webpage and initiated public action to
attempt to convince ODFW to exclude some portions of highway corridors
from Oregon PAC boundaries.
wait for new lease terms from BLM.
- The Club does not want to accept pointless lease stipulations.
has the discretion and authority to exclude the previously described
sage grouse stipulations from our lease. If BLM is unwilling to do so,
the Club will want to know why:
- We do not favor "conservation" restrictions that achieve no conservation objective.
- Broadly, we do not favor irrational public policy.
- Is it because BLM is unwilling to base land use decisions on scientific evidence?
- Or is BLM unwilling to balance conservation objectives with public access and use?
- Or is the BLM decision being guided by the "wrong kind" of conservationist?
- We assert that "conservationists" can be sorted along a spectrum, from rabid, myopic zealots to laissez-faire observers.
- We made a rational request and backed that request with a sound, evidence-based argument.
- If BLM rejects our request, we will suspect that the
decision may have been guided by the wrong kind of conservationist. And
we will contest it.
The remainder of this document provides more details about our lease renewal process.
The Club may need its Membership to assemble to exert public influence
on BLM. If that need arises, every Member will be informed.
Presently, only one person is authorized to communicate with BLM on
behalf of the Club. Any person can contact BLM at any time, but only
Club-authorized persons can communicate with BLM on behalf of the Club.
If you would like to get involved, read this entire webpage and contact
Spaugh (me). 541-519-7417. Start attending Club meetings. I will plug
The PRSC Articles of Incorporation describe two objectives: conservation and shooting safety. We are a conservation org.
Sage grouse are a "near threatened" species.
The sage grouse conservation initiative gained national attention and traction in about 2010.
Fish & Wildlife Service decided in 2015 that sage grouse
would not be listed as a threatened or endangered species. The 2015
press release described sage grouse as "relatively abundant and
well-distributed across [their] 173-million acre range," and attributed
the no-list decision to the effectiveness of BLM, USFS, state agency,
and private landowner conservation programs that were implemented to
protect sage grouse habitat and avoid the need to list the bird as endangered.
Those programs are still in place. Oregon has an executive order,
several OAR's, and a statewide plan that establish policy for
development and use of land inside sage grouse PAC's. Baker County has
a Sage Grouse Local Implementation Team (LIT) with representatives from
USFWS, BLM, ODFW, ODA, Baker Weed, Tri-County Weed, County Commissioners,
Planning Department, etc.
The LIT is a beneficial organization: among other things, it promotes
balanced public policy by creating a public forum open to all
Things to know about sage grouse:
1 - Sage grouse are wary birds. Human activity and disturbances drive
2 - Sage grouse need large tracts of relatively undisturbed habitat.
3 - Sage grouse want to use certain types of habitat for lekking,
nesting, brooding, and wintering.
4 - Sage grouse are loyal to lekking and nesting grounds. They want to
use the same ground every year.
5 - Nest success rates decrease when human disturbance drives sage
grouse away from their preferred habitat.
6 - Sage grouse populations are declining everywhere, and have been since at least 1950.
7 - Hwy 86 was built in 1917. The shooting range was built in 1968. OHV
- 1972. Interpretive Center - 1992.
8 - No sage grouse have been observed or documented within 1 mile of
the shooting range land since before 1950.
9 - Our shooting range is about 3 miles away from the nearest active
10 - Sage grouse populations plummeted about 2004, the same time that
West Nile Virus arrived.
11 - West Nile Virus killed many sage grouse.
12 - Birds have an adaptive immune system. It is not known whether sage
grouse are developing effective immunity to West Nile Virus.
ODFW is currently finalizing its 2023 efforts to revise Sage Grouse PAC boundaries in Oregon.
In late September, the Club conducted a quick campaign asking Members
and friends to send an email comment to ODFW, asking ODFW to exclude
some highway corridors from PAC's at locations where highways entered
PAC boundaries. The campaign was transparent: ODFW and BLM know we did
it. About 80 people sent the requested comment to ODFW. Not as
many as we hoped, but much more than any other type of public comment
ODFW received regarding PAC boundaries.
The goal of our quick campaign was to see if we could convince ODFW to
revise the Baker PAC boundary such that the Shooting Range was no
longer inside the PAC.
If ODFW agreed, then we might use that information to help us convince
BLM to remove the sage grouse closure and noise control stipulations
from our new lease.
Reminder: BLM has it's own sage grouse habitat maps and related
policies. Even if ODFW decides to draw our Shooting Range out of the
Baker PAC, that is no guarantee that BLM will remove closures and noise
control stipulations from our lease.
The ODFW decision will probably be finalized before year end.
The big picture: BLM wants to add sage grouse restrictions to
our lease. We presented a rational argument for why those restrictions
are not necessary. Our argument did not immediately prevail. Thus it
made sense to improve the argument. Convincing ODFW to remove us from
Oregon PAC boundaries might improve our argument, and ODFW was already
revising the boundaries, so it made sense to ask.
The eventual outcome was that our campaign attracted additional
attention, leading to more discussion among more parties, which is
likely in our favor.
The ODFW portal for public input on sage grouse PAC boundaries: https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/sagegrouse/cas_update_2023.asp
Click on the Landscape Tool to use the map application.
In late September, BLM invited PRSC to meet at the Baker Office. Spaugh
represented PRSC. Nothing new was accomplished at that meeting. The BLM
lead at the meeting was a professional and courteous Assistant Field
Manager named Sandra Tennyson. Also present was a Specialist named
Melissa Primus. Primus was confrontational and dismissive. She rejected
our highway argument.
After the meeting, a majority of PRSC Trustees agreed the Club should
file a complaint with BLM. Spaugh filed the complaint, which primarily
requested that BLM staff at future meetings be courteous, cooperative,
Our overall strategy is to call public attention to BLM responses to our requests for rational lease terms.
In future years, we will conduct sage grouse habitat improvement
measures at the shooting range, including weed control, invasive annual
grass control, native plant restoration, and elimination of predator
roosts and subsides. Some of us may volunteer manpower for habitat
improvement projecvts in the Baker PAC. If you want to get involved,
come to Club meetings.
Stay tuned for updates.
Powder River Sportsmen's Club
1 - Connelly et al evaluated 804 leks within 100 km of I-80 in Wyoming
and Utah. No leks were located within 2 km of either side of the
highway. Only nine leks were located within 4 km. Distance from the
highway was a significant predictor of lek activity: activity declined
faster at leks within 7.5km compared to leks located between 7.5 and
15km from I-80.
Connelly JW, Knick ST,
Schroeder MA, Stiver SJ and Wildlife Agencies.
“Conservation assessment of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush
2 - Knick et al evaluated 3,184 lek locations across 920,000 km2 to
model minimum habitat characteristics essential to sage grouse
persistence. Sage grouse abandon leks when the density of highways
located within 5km exceeds 50 meters per km2, or when the density of
interstate highways located within 5km exceeds 10 meters per km2.
Knick ST, Hanser SE, Preston
KL. “Modeling ecological minimum
requirements for distribution of greater sage-grouse leks: implications
for population connectivity across their western range, U.S.A.” Ecology
and Evolution 3 (2013): 1539 - 1551.
3 - Wann et al, in collaboration with BLM, evaluated 6,615 lek
locations across the entire U.S. sage grouse range to model habitat
characteristics most conducive to lek persistence. Some environmental
factors influenced lek persistence in consistent ways across the entire
range of habitat, whereas other environmental factors exhibited
regional variation in degree of influence. For example, encroaching
pinyon/juniper may serve as sage grouse roosts in some areas, whereas
the presence of >16 meters per km2 of major road surface within
3.2km of habitat predicts lek extirpation everywhere within sage grouse
range. Major roads are negatively associated with lek persistence
regardless of adjacent landscape conditions. Distance matters: nearby
disturbances impact bird behavior more than distant disturbances.
Wann GT, Van Schmidt ND,
Shyvers JE, Tarbox BC, McLachlan MM, O’Donnell
MS, Titolo AJ, Coates PS, Edmunds DR, Heinrichs JA, Monroe AP, Aldridge
CL. A regionally varying habitat model to inform management for greater
sage-grouse persistence across their range. Global Ecology and
Conservation. 2023; 41.
4 - Holloran: male lek attendance was significantly diminished by the
presence of oilfield main haul roads within 3 km of leks. Attendance
rates were negatively associated with traffic volume and also road
length greater than 5 km.
Holloran MJ. “Greater
sage-grouse (centrocercus urophasianus)
population response to natural gas field development in western
5 - Aldridge et al observed that female Gunnison grouse avoid nesting
in proximity to BLM Class 1 and Class 2 roads. At the patch scale,
threshold response curves indicated very low probability of nest
occurrence within 8 km of major roads, and sharply higher probability
at distances greater than 8 km from major roads.
Aldridge C, Saher D, Childers
T, Stahlnecker K, Bowen Z. "Crucial
nesting habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse: A spatially explicit
hierarchical approach." J of Wildlife Management. 2012; 76:391-406.
6 - Tack demonstrated that proximity to roads is negatively associated
with lek occurrence. The impact of roads within 3.2km is detrimental
for all leks, but comparatively more pronounced for large leks with 25
or more birds.
Tack, JD. "Sage-grouse and the
human footprint: implications for
conservation of small and declining populations." (2009). University of
Montana Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional
7 - Berkeley et al: At the landscape scale, distance to nearest road is
a primary variable affecting sage grouse selection of nest sites. Hens
select nest sites farther away from county roads and highways compared
to two-track roads, and avoid landscapes that have a higher density of
gravel or paved roads.
Berkeley L, Szczypinski M, Helm
J, Dreitz V. "Sage Grouse Grazing
Project - Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Progress Report." Montana Fish,
Wildlife, 7 Parks W-158-R. https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/conservation/wildlife-reports/sage-grouse/2019aug_sagegrouse_progress_report_final1.pdf
8 - Lyon et al: Light traffic disturbance of 1-12 vehicles per day
during the breeding season may reduce sage grouse nest-initiation rates
and increase distances moved from leks during nest site selection.
Lyon AG, Anderson SH.
"Potential Gas Development Impacts on Sage Grouse
Nest Initiation and Movement.” Wildlife Society Bulletin.