The Bureau of Land Management’s 2019 Sage Grouse Plan Amendments in seven Western states are on hold following a ruling Wednesday by a federal judge in Idaho.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the agency from implementing those plan amendments in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Northeastern California and Oregon.
The environmental law firm Advocates for the West filed the motion for a preliminary injunction in April on behalf of Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Prairie Hills Audubon Society, which sued the Department of Interior and BLM in March.
The 2019 amendments revised the 2015 Obama-era amendments to sage grouse resource management plans and went into effect in March 2019.
The amendments came at the requests of western governors to better meet the needs of their states and to align federal conservation with state initiatives to conserve the species.
The plaintiffs allege BLM failed to make a rangewide analysis and evaluate climate change impacts and removed protections for sage grouse, a move that was unjustified by science or conditions on the ground.
Winmill granted the injunction, stating the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their case because BLM failed to consider reasonable alternatives other than management alignment with states, failed to take a hard look at the environmental consequences when it ignored comments from Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and failed to consider cumulative impacts over the entire sage grouse range.
The environmental groups said the 2019 plans would allow expanded drilling, mining, grazing and other activities across 51 million acres of sage grouse habitat.
BLM “deliberately undermined protections for the sage grouse then had the audacity to claim these rollbacks would not impact the species,” Sarah Stellberg, an attorney with Advocates for the West, said.
Livestock producers, however, had hailed the plans as a more workable solution than the 2015 plans.
The revisions addressed problems with habitat objectives such as grass height requirements that inappropriately reduced grazing compared with the resources, Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and senior director of federal lands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in an earlier interview with Capital Press.
Lane is now NCBA’s vice president of government affairs.
The earlier federal plans resulted in lands that hadn’t been grazed enough, resulting in too much fuel for large wildfires, which destroy sage grouse habitat, he said.
In addition, the amendments would improve conservation because they better align with state plans, which are working, he said.
PLC and NCBA issued statements on Wednesday.
“The claims lodged by the plaintiffs are not based in science,” Bob Skinner, PLC president, said.
“Time and time again, research has demonstrated that grazing is not only compatible with healthy sage grouse populations, it is a critical tool in the prevention of wildfire — which is the primary threat to sage grouse habitat,” he said.
NCBA President Jennifer Houston said the environmental litigants care less about genuine conservation and more about pushing livestock off federal land.
“This narrow-minded world view is what prompted the BLM to undertake these revisions in the first place. In the end, science must determine the outcome of this suit,” she said.