Biden administration to consider restoring sage grouse habitat

The Bureau of Land Management will consider an update to the protections for the greater sage grouse’s habitat after reducing it under the Trump administration, the bureau announced Friday.

The bureau will assess information that has become available on the bird’s habitat since the last update in 2019, Director Tracy Stone-Manning announced. This will include assessing the effects of climate change and other environmental factors.

The sage grouse’s U.S. habitat is predominantly in sagebrush steppe in the western U.S. across 11 states.

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The Trump administration had in 2019 reduced protections for about 10 million acres of habitat for the bird, curtailing a 2015 move by the Obama administration. 

“They put in place a plan that radically reduced sage grouse habitat protections,” Erik Molvar, executive director for the Western Watersheds Project, told The Hill. After the move, both the Western Watersheds Project and other environmental advocates sued the administration, obtaining an injunction but not a ruling on the merits of the case.

The U.S. Geological Survey earlier this year released new research on sage grouse population dynamics, Molvar added, noting that its findings indicate a sharp decline in the bird’s numbers since 2015.

“A good plan would take a look at all of the massive amount of science that's been generated in the last 20 years regarding what sage grouse need to survive, and then apply standards from the science for Habitat protections across all of the sage grouse habitats, regardless of state jurisdictions or individual political preferences of different political leaders here and there,” he added.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the sage grouse did not warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act.

“The 2015 plans established a solid foundation, but actions during the previous administration kept those plans from being put into action,” Stone-Manning said in a statement “As we move to build upon the earlier plans, we are asking whether there are other steps we should take given new science to improve outcomes for sage-grouse and also for people in communities across the west who rely on a healthy sagebrush steppe.”

Rachel Frazin contributed.