Greater sage grouse

A greater sage grouse displays his plumage in a mating ritual for female grouse. Two environmental groups concerned the Trump administration won't defend an Obama administration-era policy on sage grouse protections are seeking to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Idaho ranchers. The National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, filed documents in U.S. District Court. The initial lawsuit was filed in 2018 by Oakley-based brothers Douglas, Don and David Pickett. Idaho intervened on the ranchers' side a few months later. The lawsuit alleges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service failed to submit the rules to Congress for review.

The Bureau of Land Management on Friday finalized amendments to Obama-era management plans for sage grouse habitat in the West to better align federal plans with state plans to conserve the species.

In announcing the move, Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt said the decision was the result of months of collaboration with state governments in Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and California.

The plans adopted show that listening to and working with state and local government is the key to long-term conservation and ensuring the viability of local communities across the West, he said.

“Obviously we’re pleased that the process is finally completed,” Ethan Lane, executive director of Public Lands Council and senior director of federal lands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.

Generally, the plans made progress toward a better management structure than the original 2015 plan amendments, he said.

“Some states fared better than others, and that’s a product of Interior taking its cues from the individual states,” he said.

But all the amended plans take steps to address problems with the habitat objectives table, such as grass height requirements that inappropriately reduced grazing compared to the resource, he said.

In the case of Idaho, the new plan goes much further in reducing burdensome habitat objectives. Oregon’s plan was left largely in place but leaves room for BLM to manage on a broader scale, he said.

“Grazing in sage grouse country is going to be easier because of these plans,” he said.

They’ll improve conservation because the state plans the federal government is moving closer to are effective, they’re working, he said.

“This is going to be a better outcome for the bird,” he said.

The earlier federal plans resulted in land that hadn’t been grazed enough, resulting in too much fuel for large wildfires that destroy sage grouse habitat, he said.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said in a press release that Idaho’s work with Interior is a model for shared conservation stewardship that enhances rangelands.

“This balanced decision will improve conditions for sage grouse and hundreds of other species while maintaining certainty and predictability for ranchers, developers and the public,” he said.

Governors of the other six states with finalized amendments weighed in favorably as well.

But not everyone is on board.

The Western Values Project, an environmental group, contends the changes were “rigged from the outset” at the behest of the same special interests and oil and gas groups that Bernhardt represented as a lobbyist.

“Not only do these amendments put the bird on a fast-track to an endangered species listing … but also fly in the face of the department’s halfhearted migratory corridor initiative …,” Jayson O’Neill, WVP deputy director, said in a statement.

The Center for Western Priorities also mentioned Bernhardt’s ties to oil and gas companies and criticized the decision.

“Time and again this administration has shown that it won’t let critical wildlife protections stand in the way of rampant extraction on our public lands,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, the center’s policy director, said in a statement.

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