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BLM Shrinks Sage-Grouse Protections for Energy Leases

Greater sage-grouse populations in Utah and across 11 western states have dropped by nearly 95 percent from historic levels. (BLM)
Greater sage-grouse populations in Utah and across 11 western states have dropped by nearly 95 percent from historic levels. (BLM)
December 7, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – The Trump administration has announced plans to roll back protections on sage-grouse habitat across seven western states – including Utah – in order to open up millions of acres to drilling, mining and other resource extraction.

Conservation groups say the move could unravel years of stakeholder collaboration to keep the iconic bird off the endangered species list.

Ken Rait, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Lands Program, says the proposal would eliminate habitat protections on 80 percent of the lands designated under the 2015 plans.

"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 changes would apply to thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management-managed lands in Utah.

Sage-steppe habitat is not only important for the bird known for its impressive mating dance, but more than 350 other species – including mule deer, elk and pronghorn. The Interior Department says it will continue to protect sage grouse, and that the move comes at the request of states for more flexibility on public lands.

Matt Holloran, a leading sage-grouse scientist with the firm Operational Conservation, calls the BLM's proposal "a mistake," and believes the decision was made without considering science. He warns the changes could throw away painstaking work to craft a federal plan that balanced development and conservation concerns across 11 million acres of habitat across 11 states.

"It took several years to develop,” says Holloran. “From conservation organizations, all the way to industry, livestock producers, agricultural industry, the federal and state governments and local governments, sportsman organizations – everybody came together and developed these plans."

Sage-grouse populations have declined by nearly 95 percent from historic levels.

The BLM published its final Environmental Impact Statements and amendments in the Federal Registry, and will accept public comments through Jan. 8, 2019.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT