Oregon nears decision on sage-grouse rules that will impact energy siting

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (“ODFW”) posted the final draft rules and draft conservation strategy related to the greater sage-grouse. After years of negotiation and numerous public meetings on the ODFW’s approach, the final drafts are open for public comment. On April 22 they will be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for consideration for adoption.

In March of last year the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) determined that protection of the greater sage-grouse was warranted under the federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) but was precluded from listing by the USFWS’s need to take action on species facing more immediate or severe threats. The species is now a candidate for listing, but it is uncertain if or when a formal ESA listing may occur. Oregon, through ODFW’s approach to sage-grouse conservation, joins other western states (e.g., Wyoming) in taking preventative state action, at least in part, to preclude the need for an eventual federal listing.

 

Both the USFWS determination and the ODFW’s conservation strategy identify energy, and renewable energy development specifically, as posing threats to the specie. The ODFW’s conservation strategy points out that there is great potential for geo-thermal, solar and wind energy in most sage-grouse regions in Oregon, but the same windswept ridges that make for great wind facility siting, for example, may also be important sources of accessible winter forage for sage-grouse.

 

Among other things, the draft rule would formally adopt the ODFW’s Core Area Approach to Conservation and directs the ODFW to maintain maps of sage-grouse core areas. The rule stops short of directly equating sage-grouse core areas with habitat categories under the Fish and Wildlife Habitat Mitigation Policy. By referencing the ODFW’s conservation strategy, the rule instead outlines micro-siting guidance for development projects (e.g. a wind facility) proposed in identified core areas. As part of the siting process, the ODFW recommends that sage-grouse habitat in core areas be classified as “irreplaceable, essential habitat” and impacts on such Habitat Category I areas avoided.  In past iterations of the core area maps, much of eastern Oregon, and southeastern Oregon in particular, was identified as being home to sage-grouse core areas.

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