Zinke or­ders re­view­ing of grouse rule

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - — Ben Wolf­gang

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke late Wed­nes­day or­dered his de­part­ment to be­gin a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of fed­eral poli­cies pro­tect­ing the greater sage grouse — and reignited a bat­tle with western con­ser­va­tion­ists and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups in the process.

The 60-day study will re­visit the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy, en­acted in Septem­ber 2015, that stopped short of list­ing the bird on the en­dan­gered species list, a dras­tic step would have shut down the sage grouse’s Western habi­tat to ranch­ing and en­ergy ex­plo­ration.

The cur­rent pol­icy al­lows such ac­tiv­i­ties in the bird’s habi­tat but es­tab­lishes pro­tec­tions to en­sure the sage grouse, which has dropped in pop­u­la­tion from the mil­lions to be­tween 200,000 and 500,000, does not be­come ex­tinct.

The habi­tat in­cludes tens of mil­lions of acres of fed­eral land and stretches across 11 states.

But Mr. Zinke sug­gested in his an­nounce­ment that cur­rent fed­eral rules are too re­stric­tive, and that there could be less heavy-handed ways to en­sure the sage grouse is pro­tected.

“De­stroy­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and levy­ing oner­ous reg­u­la­tions on the pub­lic lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neigh­bor,” Mr. Zinke said in a state­ment.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists quickly pushed back at the re­view process and said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is merely lay­ing the ground­work for unchecked en­ergy de­vel­op­ment across sage grouse habi­tat.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s clear in­ten­tion to drill, mine and frack our pub­lic lands no mat­ter the cost is once again on full dis­play,” said Lena Mof­fitt, se­nior di­rec­tor of the Sierra Club’s Our Wilder­ness Cam­paign.

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