Trump admin floats reduced protections for imperiled sage grouse

The Trump administration rolled out detailed proposals Thursday to reduce measures designed to protect the imperiled greater sage grouse in seven western states.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released state-specific plans for public comment.

The plans would open more of the bird’s millions of acres of range to activities like oil and natural gas drilling and development.

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It’s part of the Trump administration’s push to promote fossil fuels and other economic activities, often at the expense of more protective measures for wildlife.

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeAlaska oil and gas lease sale nets .5 million Former Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda MORE kicked off the process of reconsidering the Obama administration’s 2015 sage grouse policies with a secretarial order last year, which led to Thursday’s plans.

Trump administration officials on Thursday defended the move.

“I completely believe that these plans are leaning forward on the conservation of sage grouse," deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who has led the efforts to change sage grouse policies, told The Associated Press.

“Do they do it in exactly the same way? No. We made some change in the plans and got rid of some things that are simply not necessary.”

With the plans, the administration wants “to enhance cooperation with the states by modifying the approach to Greater Sage-Grouse management in existing [plans] to better align with individual state plans and/or conservation measures and [Interior] and BLM policy,” the agency said in each of the state-specific documents.

But conservationists immediately slammed the proposals, saying they threaten not just the sage grouse, but the various other plant and wildlife species that depend on the unique sage brush ecosystem.

“A fractured approach to sagebrush conservation will not work. The best chance to protect sage-grouse and more than 350 other species is through a landscape-wide conservation strategy, which is what we achieved in 2015,” Brian Rutledge, director of the Audubon Society’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative, said in a statement.

“This administration’s goal has been clear from the start: expand oil and gas drilling in sage-grouse habitat, regardless of the consequences to wildlife and wild lands,” Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

“Meddling with the current plans will not only jeopardize grouse and their habitat, but also communities and economies that depend on healthy sagebrush landscapes.”

The 2015 policies were put in place by the Obama administration as part of an effort to avoid having to protect the bird through an Endangered Species Act designation.