The Interior Department has begun the process of reconsidering and potentially revising a 2015 plan to protect the greater sage grouse, a Western bird that has seen its habitat dwindle.
The decision earned immediate criticism by those who charge that revisiting the plan means "pandering to a few large energy interests."
In a notice published Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it would review land use provisions in the federal sage grouse conservation plan, which limits new development on some of the sage grouse’s range in 10 western states and defines ways to expand its habitat there.
BLM is also set to reverse an Obama administration effort to block mining on 10 million acres of land in six Western states. The ban was part of the administration’s efforts to protect the sage grouse.
The announcements are the latest development in the goal to protect the sage grouse, a distinctive chicken-sized bird characterized by its unique courtship rituals.
Conservationists and environmentalists have urged federal and state governments to take action to protect the grouse, which has seen its population fluctuate throughout the west. Researchers say the bird’s population has declined from millions decades ago to between 200,000 and 5000,000 today, largely due to habitat loss. The sage grouse lives in the threatened sagebrush ecosystem.
The Interior Department in 2015 decided not to extend Endangered Species Act protections to the bird. A key aspect of that decision was the land management plan released by the federal and state officials earlier that year.
The plan, which came after several states had launched sage grouse conservation efforts of their own, limits development — including that of the oil and gas industries — on federally-owned sage grouse territory in 10 states.
Drillers, ranchers and conservatives raised concerns with the plan, saying it was too expansive. Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund unveils first midterm endorsements Trump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Watchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership MORE ordered a review of the sage grouse plans earlier this year, and in August released a report calling for changes to several sage grouse preservation strategies.
“I am particularly interested in assisting the states in setting sage-grouse population objectives to improve management of the species,” Zinke wrote in a letter then. “I also believe we should examine a program to enhance scientific research.”
Conservationists on Thursday immediately slammed the decision to revisit the strategy.
“This was a plan crafted by the states and it didn’t need the heavy hand of the federal government — so let’s call it what it is: pandering to a few large energy interests and anti-public lands advocates that didn’t get what they wanted when this plan was sealed in 2015,” said David Yarnold, the president and CEO of the Audubon Society.
“There’s no other explanation for violating states’ rights and core GOP principles," he continued.
BLM’s review of the conservation plans covers California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Montana.