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Trump Administration Proposes Sage-Grouse Shakeup

The greater sage-grouse has lost 95 percent of its historic population. (Katie Theule/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
The greater sage-grouse has lost 95 percent of its historic population. (Katie Theule/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
December 7, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – The Trump administration wants to ease protections on sage-grouse habitat across the West, opening up millions of acres to drilling, mining and other resource extraction.

The Interior Department has released proposals in seven of the 11 states where the 2015 Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan is currently in place – not including Montana.

According to Ken Rait, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Lands Program, the proposal eliminates 80 percent of the 11 million acres of habitat protected from oil and gas development under the current plan.

"This administration is focused on reducing any kinds of restrictions on energy development, and now we see tens of millions of acres of sage-grouse habitat falling victim," says Rait.

The protected habitat is important for about 350 western species in the so-called sagebrush sea. The Interior Department says the move comes at the request of states for more flexibility on public lands.

The proposed changes may not include Montana, but directly affect neighbors Idaho and Wyoming.

Matt Holloran, a leading sage-grouse scientist with the firm Operational Conservation, says it took several years to develop the 2015 plan. He says a wide range of interests came together, including conservation and sportsmen's groups, farmers and livestock producers, and local, state and federal governments.

Holloran believes the Trump administration is throwing all that collaboration away with its new proposal.

"It's a mistake,” says Holloran. “I don't think they have any scientific basis for making the changes. They're losing a range-wide, landscape-scale perspective on grouse conservation, which I think was the critical role that the federal plans played beyond the state plans."

The new plan would open up millions of acres to energy producers. But Rait notes the 2015 plans did not eliminate oil and gas development – and points out that only one-fifth of areas with medium to high potential for drilling overlap sage-grouse habitat.

"The BLM is choosing to up-end scientifically based, locally supported plans to benefit the energy development industry, for whom four-fifths of the public lands are not enough," says Rait.

The sage grouse has lost 95 percent of its historic population across its 11-state range.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT