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BLM Sage-Grouse Hearings Start Today in Utah

The Trump administration is considering changes to an Obama-era conservation plan for the sage grouse, a bird famous for its mating dance. (BLM)
The Trump administration is considering changes to an Obama-era conservation plan for the sage grouse, a bird famous for its mating dance. (BLM)
November 14, 2017

VERNAL, Utah – The Bureau of Land Management is coming to Utah this week to hear what the public thinks about potential changes to sage-grouse habitat protection plans. The Trump administration's efforts could pave the way for more oil and gas development.

Ken Rait, project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts, says rolling back the measure would undo years of work across a wide array of stakeholders, and he argues the current plans already give states flexibility for development.

"We are concerned that changes that are being contemplated may not meet with the best available science and so we are encouraging the administration to stick with the 2015 plans, give them time to work," he says.

Gov. Gary Herbert wants to see fewer restrictions on land use and argues instead for focusing just on sage-grouse population numbers in the state. The conservation plans cover the sagebrush sea stretching across 50 million acres in eleven Western states.

The bird - considered to be a sentinel species whose fate is tied to 350 others, including elk, golden eagle and pronghorn - has lost half its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population.

Sage-grouse scientist Matt Holloran recently joined more than a dozen of his colleagues in a letter asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to give the 2015 plans a chance to work. He says he's concerned that the new administration could bring disruptive oil and gas production to habitat areas necessary for the bird's survival.

"The science took into account things like the response of the species to gas development," he notes. "The science supports the habitat objectives and the approach taken to managing livestock grazing. The science supports the identification of critical habitats."

The BLM hearings start at 5 P.M. Tuesday evening at the Western Park Convention Center in Vernal. Hearings begin at the same time on Wednesday in Cedar City and Thursday in Snowville.

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

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT