Conservationists Want Judge To Halt Trump Admin Drilling Plans For Sage Grouse Lands

<p>Courtesy of Tom Koerner/USFWS</p>
<p>A greater sage grouse stands in silhouette at the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.</p>
Photo: Greater Sage Grouse | In silhouette - USFWS
A greater sage grouse stands in silhouette at the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.

Four conservation groups have asked a judge to block a Trump administration plan to allow drilling, mining and other activities in seven Western states they say will harm sage grouse.

Western Watersheds Project and other groups asked for the injunction in U.S. District Court in Idaho late last week for Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California and Oregon.

The groups in March sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service over changes to land-management plans involving sage grouse.

The March action supplemented a 2016 lawsuit that said a 2015 federal plan put forward by the President Barack Obama inadequately protected sage grouse. The groups say the plan put forward by President Donald Trump weakens protections further.

“Defendants falsely assert that the 2019 BLM plan amendments build upon the 2015 plans, but in truth they rescind or weaken numerous 2015 plan measures,” the request for the injunction states.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, acknowledged on Monday receiving an emailed inquiry from The Associated Press about the injunction request but didn’t respond further.

Millions of sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird that relies on sagebrush, once roamed the West, but development, livestock grazing and wildfires have reduced the bird’s population to fewer than 500,000. Most of the bird’s habitat — sagebrush steppe — is on land administered by the BLM. The birds are found in 11 states from the Dakotas to California.

The 2015 sage grouse plans are widely considered to have stopped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. There are concerns that further declines in sage grouse populations could cause the bird to again be considered for federal protections.

“Sage grouse are an American icon that will be irreparably harmed by the wanton destruction of sagebrush habitats that the recent amendments allow,” Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project said in a statement.