Trump administration releases supplemental information on sage grouse rollback

Trump administration releases supplemental information on sage grouse rollback
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The Trump administration on Friday released draft supplemental environmental impact statements on its attempts to weaken protections for the sage grouse bird after a judge ruled last year that its past statements likely did not meet legal requirements. 

The new documents do not change the conclusions of past statements, but do highlight steps taken during the planning process.

The draft released Friday was criticized by environmental groups as an attempt to “paper over deficiencies” in the administration's past documents following a court order that temporarily prevented the rule change. 

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In October, a judge issued an order that temporarily halted the administration’s plan to ease protections for the sage grouse on 5.2 million acres of land across the West that are sought-after grazing pasture for ranchers.

Among the reasons Circuit Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave for temporarily halting the plan were that the previous environmental impact statements may have “failed to comply” with certain requirements. 

Interior Department acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond told reporters on a press call this week that the new statements are intended to respond to the judge's order. 

“They illustrate the hard look and robust analysis we performed and the collaborative process that went into the 2019 plans, which balance our habitat conservation and enhancement goals,” Hammond said. 

Vera Smith, a senior federal lands policy analyst, criticized the drafts in a statement Friday. 

“The supplemental sage grouse documents published today by the Trump administration are simply an effort to paper over deficiencies in its previous environmental analysis and expedite unraveling of protections for the imperiled Greater-sage grouse,” Smith said. “Today’s action does not change the fact that the administration is dead set on opening up sage-grouse habitat to drilling and fracking.”

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She also told The Hill that sage grouse is an umbrella species, meaning other animals such as elk, mule deer and native trout also depend upon its habitat.

The new documents were similarly criticized by The Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Michael Saul as a "half-hearted attempt to re-justify the same decision they made before.” 

“The injunction offered the interior department an opportunity to go back and do it right and do a better job and actually think about how to balance sage grouse conservation and their other objectives, and that’s not what they've done here,” Saul said. 

The Center is among the groups that sued the administration to try to prevent the rule. 

 

Sage grouse can be found in the western U.S. Male sage grouse birds puff out yellow-green sacs in their chest to attract a mate. 

 Updated Feb. 21, 5:32 p.m.