10:46 PM

For Immediate Release

Interior Throws a One-Two Punch at Greater Sage-Grouse and the West

DOI Drops Mining Withdrawal on 10 Million Acres of Sage-Grouse Habitat; Opens Sage-Grouse Plans for Revision

WASHINGTON (Oct. 5, 2017) – Acting on direction from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced that it will abandon the current public decision-making process to protect vital habitat for greater sage-grouse from mining in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming and will instead open federal sage-grouse conservation plans with the intent of weakening protections for the species.

The mineral withdrawal was a key component of the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy, the federal government’s unprecedented effort to conserve sage-grouse that became a target of the Trump administration this summer. Having cancelled the withdrawal, the BLM will also soon publish a notice in the Federal Register to solicit public comments on proposed revisions to the planning strategy that would harm sage-grouse and hundreds of other wildlife species.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“Secretary Zinke’s actions are an insult to the hundreds of conservationists, landowners, communities and other stakeholders who spent years developing a collaborative plan to conserve sage-grouse across the West.

“In fact, while the Trump administration works to weaken the federal conservation strategy, scientists recommend doing the opposite. The latest research advises strengthening conservation measures to protect and restore sage-grouse, which also benefits hundreds of other wildlife species, sagebrush grasslands and the Western communities and economies that depend on them.

“Secretary Zinke should not throw away the hard work of many to appease the special interests of a few.”


National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy

In June 2017, Secretary Zinke directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to identify provisions in the National Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy that may require modification depending on their potential effects on energy extraction and other land uses. Officials were directed to review the sage-grouse plans in the context of Secretarial Order 3349, which aims to increase energy production on public lands.

The National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy is the most comprehensive land use planning process ever undertaken by the Bureau of Land Management. It recognizes the importance of conserving large expanses of sagebrush grasslands for sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species, designating tens of millions of acres as priority habitat on federal lands. Costing more than $45 million, the strategy is designed to conserve hundreds of fish and wildlife species, support a billion dollar recreation economy, and provide for multiple uses on public lands in 11 Western states. Public opinion polling shows that large majorities of voters in these states support efforts to protect sage-grouse in this region, including listing this native western bird under the Endangered Species Act, if necessary.

Mineral Withdrawal

In December 2016, the Obama administration drafted plans to analyze and identify where the Secretary of the Interior might withdraw areas on public lands from mining to conserve greater sage-grouse.

Three months later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3349.

Greater sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington -- and two Canadian provinces. The species has lost approximately half of its original range, and populations have declined by more than 90 percent from historic levels.

Sage-grouse require large expanses of healthy sagebrush steppe, an increasingly rare habitat in the West. Millions of acres of the Sagebrush Sea have been lost to agriculture and development over the past 200 years. What remains is fragmented and degraded by poorly managed oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, min­ing, unnatural fire, invasive weeds, off-road vehicles, roads, fences, pipe­lines and utility corridors.

The FWS determined the greater sage-grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2015, citing the range-wide effort by federal agencies and states to conserve the bird. Subsequent information indicates that more must be done to conserve the species, including an October 2016 USGS study that showed that greater sage-grouse populations in Wyoming declined 2.5 percent annually between 1984 and 2008 due to oil and gas development.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.