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Published: Sat, June 10, 2017
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Trump Administration Orders Review Of Sage Grouse Protections

Trump Administration Orders Review Of Sage Grouse Protections

Zinke, who has been a vocal critic of the Obama-era sage grouse plans, will sign a secretarial order tomorrow to establish a review panel to look at both federal- and state-level efforts to protect the birds and possibly recommend significant changes to how they are managed. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is bringing the plan, which took years to devise, back to the drawing table. "The order could result in dismantling the plans without seriously considering how that would harm sage-grouse and western communities". "Wyoming has worked for decades to get to where we are in terms of Wyoming's sage grouse plan".

"Secretary Zinke should be careful not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to sage grouse conservation", said Brian Rutledge, the Audubon Society's conservation policy adviser.

The Interior Department did not release a copy of the order or a written summary of it, but Zinke, speaking in a conference call with reporters, said the broad idea was to give the 11 states involved in sage grouse protection more flexibility to customize their efforts to protect the bird, freeing them from what he called the "heavy handedness" of the federal government.

The review will examine the habitat protection plans in the context of an executive order by the Trump administration related to USA energy independence.

Mead and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper have sent two letters to the Interior Secretary warning that population targets - a numbers-based approach to conservation- are fraught with complications. The federal plans follow a similar approach, identifying the most crucial areas, reducing surface disturbance in habitat areas and allowing oil and gas developers to make up for disturbance in one area that they want to drill, by enhancing the bird's habitat in another area.

Greater sage grouse are considered an "umbrella species" for shrub steppe habitat - so goes the sage grouse, so goes the sagebrush, and all the animals that live there.

Although the federal government didn't list the sage grouse, the Obama administration did enact a series of guidelines meant to protect the bird and its habitat.

It was a hard fought decision - one that an unlikely partnership of conservationists and ranchers championed.

"While we in the federal government have a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to take action, we also want to be a good neighbor, a good partner and recognize that a lot of the state agencies and the work that has been done thus far are really the forefront of the efforts", Zinke said. "These plans were designed after years of painstaking cooperation between Western states, federal agencies, industry, private landowners and other stakeholders and they offer the best chance of survival for not only the Greater Sage Grouse, but more than 350 other species".

That's when conservation efforts kicked into high gear - spurred on in part by concern from the oil, gas and mining industries and ranching interests. Under the Obama Administration plan, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service would prevent mineral production, energy development, grazing and other activities on 10 million acres of the bird's habitat.

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