Trump of­fi­cials move to loosen greater sage-grouse rules

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased Thurs­day its re­vised plans for the greater sage-grouse, mov­ing to give states more flex­i­bil­ity by eas­ing Oba­maera reg­u­la­tions on an im­per­iled bird whose vast ter­ri­tory in­cludes pub­lic lands used for drilling and graz­ing.

The Bureau of Land Man­age­ment re­vi­sions would loosen the 2015 sage­grouse con­ser­va­tion plan by open­ing up some ar­eas to min­eral leas­ing and al­low­ing for land-use waivers based on state pri­or­i­ties, changes de­signed to “strike a reg­u­la­tory bal­ance and build trust among neigh­bor­ing in­ter­ests in West­ern com­mu­ni­ties.”

While en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists raised red flags, both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic gover­nors praised the up­dated plans, de­vel­oped in co­op­er­a­tion with the West­ern Gover­nors’ As­so­ci­a­tion’s Sage-Grouse Task Force.

“We worked with the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment and our stake­hold­ers to pro­duce a plan that main­tains pro­tec­tion for the sage-grouse while balanc­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact on lo­cal economies,” said Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper, a Demo­crat. “This is a sig­nif­i­cant step that closes out the plan­ning phase and al­lows us to be­gin to see the true con­ser­va­tion ef­forts that safe­guard the sage-grouse in Colorado.”

Demo­cratic Gov. Kate Brown of Ore­gon also praised the ef­fort, call­ing it “a crit­i­cal step that marks a shift away from plan­ning to­ward ac­tive con­ser­va­tion and land­scape man­age­ment to pro­tect this iconic species.”

Deep-blue Cal­i­for­nia’s state Bureau of Land Man­age­ment tweeted that “in keep­ing with @Sec­re­taryZinke’s com­mit­ment to work closely with states to en­hance con­ser­va­tion, BLM Cal­i­for­nia pro­poses in­creased flex­i­bil­ity & ac­cess in sage-grouse plans.”

Far less san­guine were en­vi­ron­men­tal groups like the Na­tional Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, which de­scribed the up­dates is­sued un­der Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke as a “bald-faced give­away to the oil and gas in­dus­try.”

“These plans show that Zinke will stop at noth­ing to make it eas­ier for pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries to mine and frack ev­ery last acre of the West,” said Michael Saul, Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Diver­sity se­nior at­tor­ney. “This is a huge step back­ward for greater sage-grouse and for hun­dreds of other species that de­pend on un­spoiled pub­lic land.”

The oil-and-gas in­dus­try avoided catas­tro­phe in Septem­ber 2015 when the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ruled that a list­ing was “not war­ranted,” cit­ing the ramped-up fed­eral and state con­ser­va­tion ef­forts to pro­tect the ground-dwelling bird, whose range spans 173 mil­lion acres on 11 West­ern states.

Three months be­fore the de­ci­sion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion un­veiled reg­u­la­tions to tighten en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and im­prove habi­tat con­ser­va­tion on sage­grouse ter­ri­tory, which were hailed by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists but also crit­i­cized for con­flict­ing with some state and lo­cal plans.

“With to­day’s ac­tion we have leaned for­ward to ad­dress the var­i­ous states’ is­sues, while ap­pro­pri­ately en­sur­ing that we will con­tinue to be fo­cused on mean­ing­fully ad­dress­ing the threats to the greater sage-grouse and mak­ing ef­forts to im­prove its habi­tat,” said Deputy In­te­rior Sec­re­tary David Bern­hardt.

The Fi­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact State­ment and pro­posed plan amend­ments — which ap­ply to north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Idaho, Ne­vada, Ore­gon, Utah and Wy­oming — are open to protest dur­ing the 30-day pe­riod end­ing Jan. 8.

Whit Fos­burgh, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Theodore Roo­sevelt Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship, called the changes a “mixed bag” that will need to be im­ple­mented “to the let­ter” to pre­vent more de­clines in the sage-grouse pop­u­la­tion.

“These new plans are a mixed bag, with some changes ad­dress­ing le­git­i­mate re­quests from the states to help align with their con­ser­va­tion ap­proaches and other changes strip­ping back pro­tec­tions for core sage-grouse habi­tat and cre­at­ing more un­cer­tainty for the West,” said Mr. Fos­burgh.

Once num­ber­ing in the mil­lions, the greater sage grouse pop­u­la­tion has dropped to be­tween 200,000 and 500,000, al­though the ag­gres­sive state cam­paigns have yielded en­cour­ag­ing re­sults. A study by the West­ern As­so­ci­a­tion of Fish & Wildlife Agen­cies found that the num­ber of males had re­bounded in 2006 to its high­est level since 1970.

“Un­less the im­pacts of de­vel­op­ment are prop­erly mit­i­gated to avoid fur­ther habi­tat loss, sage-grouse could eas­ily be­come a can­di­date for the threat­ened and en­dan­gered species list yet again,” said Mr. Fos­burgh.

Utah Gov. Gary Her­bert, a Repub­li­can, called the re­vised plans “a great ex­am­ple of fed­eral lead­ers lis­ten­ing to state lead­ers, valu­ing their ex­per­tise, and chang­ing their plans based on that in­put.”

“That has not been easy, but it’s the right ap­proach for the species and for the state,” Mr. Her­bert said.


The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion moved for­ward Thurs­day with plans to ease re­stric­tions on oil and nat­u­ral gas drilling and other ac­tiv­i­ties across mil­lions of acres in the Amer­i­can West that were put in place to pro­tect the threat­ened greater sage-grouse.

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