Interior to seek changes to sage grouse protections

Interior to seek changes to sage grouse protections
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The Trump administration plans to formally reconsider a landmark set of Obama administration policies meant to protect the greater sage grouse in the West, The New York Times reported.

Sometime this week, the Interior Department plans to publish a formal notice of its intent to reconsider 98 sage grouse management plans across the chicken-sized bird’s 10-state habitat, the Times said, citing agency and state officials familiar with the notice.

Reopening the consideration process could lead to a relaxation of restrictions on grazing, oil and gas drilling, mining or other development within the sage grouse’s habitat.

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The bird, which has a unique mating dance, became a lightning rod in the debate over endangered species. Conservationists argued that protecting it would conserve important ecosystems and landscapes in the West, while businesses that use a lot of land, like energy and developers, argued that protections could be detrimental to the economy.

The plans were written in 2015 with an intent to protect the bird while avoiding more extreme measures that would be required if it were named an endangered species.

But industries that use federal land have long complained that the management plans still go too far.

“I’m happy to see that it looks like it’s coming out,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told the Times about Interior’s notice.

“This Interior Department is much more willing to cooperate with states, and I think that is very positive for ensuring the sage grouse is protected without killing jobs and economic opportunities,” she said.

Conservationists quickly slammed Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE for the planned changes.

“It wasn’t broken and it didn’t need fixing,” Audubon Society President David Yarnold said in a statement.

“But if you break it, it becomes your legacy and that’s not something Zinke’s hero, Teddy Roosevelt, would ever have done.”

“Interior needs to uphold its end of the bargain and listen to Western governors and their constituents when they say wholesale changes to the sage-grouse plans aren’t necessary,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

Zinke signed an order in June to create an internal task force on the sage grouse plans, with the goal of making them work better, particularly for states.

That group made a host of recommendations in August, and Zinke asked that some of them be implemented.