It's the (Conservation) Awards Season

It isn't the Oscars or the Golden Globes, but another award season also is under way. This one honors best practices on public lands.

DENVER - The "CAPE" Awards recognize achievements in leadership and management of America's public resources.

One honoree is the federal Bureau of Land Management's Gunnison field office, where team leader Samantha Staley worked with the community on a plan to protect the Gunnison sage grouse. The bird has yet to be listed as an endangered species, even though fewer than than 5,000 exist.

Nada Culver, director of the Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, says Staley was thinking outside the box.

"They could have waited to see what the Fish and Wildlife Service did, or they could have just created this agreement with a very small group. But instead, they started early and brought together more than 30 different individuals to have input in this process."

A decision on whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species is expected in the coming months.

A similar proactive approach was taken by another CAPE honoree: Barb Sharrow in the BLM's Uncompaghre field office. She shared maps of potential wilderness areas with the public as soon as their internal reviews were done - and well in advance of any public review process.

Culver says the Uncompaghre action is especially helpful for people living in the area, because it expands the public review of potential wilderness areas well beyond the official 90-day window.

"What that does is let people know what's out there, what they could look at, what they should be commenting on - and understanding what this resource could be and how it could fit in with the many other resources."

Ten BLM offices nationwide were noted for their innovative land-management policies.

The Wilderness Society also listed its top land management priorities for the upcoming year. They include improved wildlife corridors and management plans for the greater sage grouse.