Tuesday, October 13, 2015

BLM Puts 'Off Limits' Sign on 233,000 Acres in Utah

Following last month's milestone decision to keep the beleaguered greater sage grouse off the endangered species listing, federal agencies in Utah have temporarily closed more than 233,000 acres of public and national forest lands for up to two years while they determine if the lands' importance to the ground-based bird habitat is such that they should be made off limits for a longer period. The temporary closure would not affect existing permitted activities on the lands with the shutdown only applying prospectively, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said. The federal agencies are taking comments on the proposal through Dec. 23. The effort is "consistent with the unprecedented effort to conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat," a BLM Utah spokesperson said. An interactive map of the areas included in the closure is available on the BLM Utah website. During the temporary segregation period, the BLM and USFS will complete environmental analyses to determine if the lands should be formally withdrawn to protect the sage grouse habitat. "The process will invite participation by the public, tribes, environmental groups, industry, state and local government, as well as other stakeholders," the spokesperson said. The federal agencies said neither the temporary closure or a permanent one would stop ongoing or future mineral exploration or extraction operations for operators with "valid pre-existing mining claims." Other pre-authorized activities similarly could take place. Under the federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Interior Secretary can withdraw the lands for a maximum of 20 years, and that can be extended...more

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