April 2024 - BLM & Sage Grouse

Last Fall, BLM added "conservation" restrictions to the Virtue Flat Shooting Range lease.

The restrictions are pointless. They do not achieve any conservation objective.

The Club was required to sign the lease in order to continue operating.

Under the new lease conditions:
1 - The shooting range is closed to all persons from two hours before sunset until two hours after sunrise every day from March through June.

2 - BLM can close the range when deer density exceeds 5 deer per square mile within 3 miles of the shooting range.
3 - BLM can close the range for the first and last two hours of each day from March through June if noise from the range is 10dB or higher above ambient sound level at the perimeter of any lek.

There will be more lease restrictions in the future:
"BLM shall continue monitoring activities of threatened, endangered, candidate, or BLM special status species such as greater sage-grouse (GRSG) to determine the relationship of this species to shooting activities and bird occupation of adjacent habitat. Additional restrictions, such as site closures, may be applied as needed to protect this species during critical periods such as for breeding, nesting, wintering and/or migration."

All members need to keep track of sunrise and sunset times and use the range accordingly.
If you find a strange lock on the gate, it may be a BLM deer lock, so don't cut it off.
The Club is currently communicating with BLM to determine deer closure rules.

If members violate the new lease restrictions, PRSC could lose the lease. So don't break the new rules.

The purpose of the new restrictions is to restore sage grouse and deer habitat.

In 55 years, no person has ever suggested that the shooting range had any effect on deer.
If you are local, you know that Baker City and other regional towns are infested with deer that live in town year-round.
Our shooting range is six miles from town.
If the 24-hour noise and activity of our town attracts deer, how is it that the shooting range must close every time a few deer wander by?

The new lease restrictions say that the shooting range can be loud all day as long as it is quiet in the mornings and evenings.
BLM says this will restore sage grouse habitat near Hwy 86 and the shooting range.
Hwy 86 and the OHV will not be closing in the morning and evenings, only the shooting range.

According to all available science:
1 - Sage grouse avoid highways, developed areas, and human disturbances.
2 - Being loud all day but quiet in the mornings and evenings will not convince any human-wary wildlife to resume productive used of disturbed habitat, especially habitat next to a highway.


In the map above, sage grouse used a lek in the orange dot every year for decades. That lek was 1.6 miles from the shooting range, 1 mile from the highway, and a half mile from the OHV. For forty years, the combined noise and activity from the highway/range/OHV did not cause the sage grouse to stop using that lek. They stopped using it in 2018 after West Nile Virus killed most of the sage grouse in the Virtue Flat and Keating area, and the remaining birds congregated in other areas.
If the shooting range did not harm sage grouse in that area for forty years, it won't harm them now.
During breeding season, male sage grouse never leave the area near a lek. In the map example, the sage grouse stayed within that orange dot all day and all night for at least two months. The noise from the highway/range/OHV did not drive them away during the night, the morning, midday, or the evening.
Morning and evening closures at the shooting range are pointless and arbitrary.

In 55 years, there has never been a documented sighting of a sage grouse within a mile of the range.

The highway is the predominant disturbance. Even if you close the shooting range forever, sage grouse still will not resume productive use of habitat near the highway. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see citations pertaining to roads and highways.

Obviously, the new lease restrictions are pointless and oppressive.

Last Fall, the Club presented evidence to BLM and asked them to remove the restrictions. BLM refused.

Then the Club appealed that decision to the Internal Board of Land Appeals. We will receive the IBLA decision soon. Most likely, IBLA will deny our appeal because the new lease restrictions don't actually violate any BLM policy.

Why is BLM doing this?
1 - Because federal employees and agencies take every opportunity to attack and restrict gun owners and gun rights.
2 - Because federal employees and agencies under the Biden administration are on a 30-by-30 mission to designate 30% of all land as "protected" by the year 2030. BLM and USFS publications say these protections will "increase equity and access." But BLM and USFS actions say something entirely different: "less access, much more conservation." If you want to know what the new 30-by-30 "access" looks like, look at what BLM is doing to PRSC.
3 - Because you are letting them do it.

What can you do to stop this nonsense?
1 - Call your elected representatives.
2 - Submit public comments to BLM. HERE.
3 - Join local groups that are working to oppose excessive federal restrictions on public land access and use.
4 - Exercise your 1st Amendment right to petition your government for redress of grievances.

If you want to win, do all four.
If your time is limited, the petition is the fastest and easiest option.

In April 2024, your fellow Club members started a Petition at www.fixblm.org.

The FixBLM Petition is fast and easy: two minutes and two dollars. If enough people sign the petition, PRSC will win the battle to convince BLM to remove the arbitrary restrictions from our lease. Congress may even give us the shooting range.
The Petition does more than just help our Club; it also sends a strong message to Congress and federal agencies: "Stop trying to restrict every inch of public land, stop abusing Administrative Rulemaking authority, and stop appointing zealots to head government agencies."

If you want federal agencies to stop trying to restrict or close public land, you should sign the FixBLM petition.

America has some real problems. Complaining to your friends and voting once every two years won't solve those problems. To get our country back on track, we are all going to have to start putting aside minor differences to uniting in large enough numbers to effectively support shared political goals. FixBLM is one tool you can use to make your voice heard, in minutes.

I encourage you to go to the www.fixblm.org website and sign the Petition.

David Spaugh
Powder River Sportsmen's Club

Sage grouse avoid highways. References below.

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 habitats.” (2004).

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 Wyoming.” (2005).
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 Papers #856. 
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. 2003;31(2):486–91.  
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