Zinke moves to re­lax Obama-era pro­tec­tions of Sage grouse.

Of­fi­cial also wants to open up habi­tat for en­ergy devel­op­ment projects

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke on Mon­day an­nounced the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will re­lax Obama-era rules de­signed to pro­tect the im­per­iled sage grouse, say­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion will of­fer states flex­i­bil­ity in how they choose to pro­tect the bird and also will loosen re­stric­tions on en­ergy devel­op­ment in sage grouse habi­tat.

The move is the lat­est chap­ter in an on­go­ing fight be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, who have urged stronger pro­tec­tions for sage grouse habi­tat across the West, and many con­ser­va­tives and en­ergy in­dus­try lead­ers, who be­lieve the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach was far too rigid and ham­pered eco­nomic growth.

In a state­ment Mon­day, Mr. Zinke said the new pro­to­col will go into ef­fect im­me­di­ately, and that the new In­te­rior pol­icy ef­fec­tively su­percedes the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rules.

“I’m thank­ful to all of the DOI team mem­bers as well as the bureau staff and the state part­ners who put in the hard work and time to de­velop this re­port,” he said. “I’ve di­rected Deputy Sec­re­tary David Bern­hardt to be­gin im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions and to di­rect the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, in co­or­di­na­tion with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, and other of­fices in the Depart­ment, to im­me­di­ately fol­low through on the short- and long-term rec­om­men­da­tions.”

The rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing new habi­tat bound­aries for the sage grouse; mod­i­fy­ing poli­cies for en­ergy and min­eral devel­op­ment in the ar­eas; giv­ing states the power to set sage grouse pop­u­la­tion tar­gets in pro­tected ar­eas; and other steps.

The up­dated pol­icy comes af­ter a 2015 plan by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­signed to pro­tect the sage grouse, an iconic Western bird, and keep it off of the fed­eral en­dan­gered species list. The pro­posal set strict land-use poli­cies across the 11 states that com­prise the bird’s habi­tat.

While the new re­port of­fers some spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions, it also lays out a path by which In­te­rior can work with states mov­ing for­ward, elim­i­nat­ing the top-down fed­eral ap­proach of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“States have demon­strated, or are con­fi­dent that as their mech­a­nism(s) be­come avail­able, that their mit­i­ga­tion ap­proaches are or will be ad­e­quate to meet the prin­ci­ples in this mit­i­ga­tion frame­work while sup­port­ing eco­nomic devel­op­ment,” Kath­leen Benedetto and John Ruhs, the co-lead­ers of the In­te­rior sage grouse re­view team, said in a let­ter to Mr. Zinke.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists im­me­di­ately blasted the move and said it amounted to lit­tle more than an­other give­away to the en­ergy in­dus­try.

“With this order Sec­re­tary Zinke has un­der­mined years of col­lab­o­ra­tion and hard work to pre­serve the sage grouse and the health of the great out­doors they re­flect. Zinke’s order makes it clear that the in­ter­ests of the oil and gas in­dus­tries block his vi­sion of the fu­ture,” said Athan Manuel, direc­tor of pub­lic lands pro­tec­tion for the Sierra Club. “As with other re­views un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, this order reeks of roll­backs to vi­tal health and en­vi­ron­men­tal safe­guards.”

Oil in­dus­try lead­ers, mean­while, said the re­port is a ma­jor step in the right di­rec­tion, and that the sage grouse can be fully pro­tected at the same time states move for­ward with en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

They say the sage grouse ac­tu­ally will be bet­ter pro­tected by giv­ing states flex­i­bil­ity.

“Re­mov­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive bar­ri­ers to con­ser­va­tion is crit­i­cal to pro­tect­ing the greater sage grouse with­out hin­der­ing re­spon­si­ble en­ergy devel­op­ment and lo­cal eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Erik Mil­ito, up­stream direc­tor at the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute. “The record shows that en­ergy devel­op­ment and sage grouse pop­u­la­tions can suc­cess­fully co­ex­ist, and the in­dus­try has been a leader in work­ing with state gov­ern­ments and agen­cies to pre­serve Western habi­tats, while con­tin­u­ing to meet the needs of Amer­ica’s en­ergy con­sumers.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A sage grouse is seen near Fal­lon, Ne­vada. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke says a new fed­eral plan to pro­tect the threat­ened sage grouse will bet­ter align with con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in 11 states. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists blasted Mr. Zinke’s plan and said it amounted to lit­tle more than a give­away to the en­ergy in­dus­try.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke said the new pro­to­col for the sage grouse will go into ef­fect im­me­di­ately. The rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing new habi­tat bound­aries and mod­i­fy­ing en­ergy devel­op­ment.

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