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Sage Grouse Plans Under Scrutiny at Public BLM Hearing

Wyoming's sagebrush sea is home to the iconic bird known for its bold mating rituals, as well as elk, pronghorn and golden eagles. (Pixabay)
Wyoming's sagebrush sea is home to the iconic bird known for its bold mating rituals, as well as elk, pronghorn and golden eagles. (Pixabay)
November 6, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Bureau of Land Management is taking public comments in Cheyenne Monday on potential changes to sage grouse habitat protection plans finalized under the Obama administration.

The Trump administration's efforts could pave the way for more oil and gas development.

Gov. Matt Mead has warned against making changes, and Ken Rait, a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts, says rolling back the measure would undo years of work across a wide array of stakeholders.

He argues the current plans already give states flexibility for development.

"The 2015 plans were developed with specific state needs in mind and actually provide specific provisions requested by the various states,” Rait explains. “And so, the original plans were actually quite flexible."

Rait says the decade-long efforts to make sure the iconic bird known for its mating dance stayed off the endangered species list brought together governors, ranchers, industry and outdoor-recreation enthusiasts.

He maintains the results struck a good balance between multi-use development and conservation.

The Western Energy Alliance has since complained that the plans overestimated the impacts on habitat from oil and gas production.

Biologists estimate the number of sage grouse is down by as much as 95 percent from historic levels, and Wyoming's sagebush sea accounts for almost 40 percent of the remaining population.

Matt Holloran, a leading sage-grouse scientist with the firm Operational Conservation, says the plans should be given a chance to work.

"They are looking at facilitating energy development within priority habitat, working to change some of those priority habitats, and then working to potentially undermine some of the objectives providing sage grouse with quality habitat," he states.

The BLM hearings start at 4 p.m. at the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne.

Hearings begin at the same time on Wednesday at the agency's Pinedale Field Office.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY