WASHINGTON (AP) - The Interior Department has unveiled a plan to protect the threatened sage grouse that gives Western states greater flexibility to allow mining, logging and other economic development where it now is prohibited.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the strategy Monday for the ground-dwelling bird that has suffered a dramatic population decline across its 11-state range. Zinke insists that the federal government and the states can work together to protect the sage grouse and its habitat while not slowing economic growth and job creation.
States affected by the plan are California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore.,slammed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to reopen the current federal land management plans for the Greater Sage-grouse to examine their potential to disrupt oil and gas development.
He said the recommendations could undo federal sage grouse habitat management plans, which farmers, ranchers, environmentalists and industry stakeholders spent years establishing to prevent an Endangered Species Act listing of the Greater Sage-grouse.
“The Interior Department’s sage grouse recommendations are an insult to western stakeholders’ unprecedented, years-long collaborative work to conserve the species’ habitat, and an affront to the science behind the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to keep the sage grouse off the Endangered Species List,” Wyden said.
“The last thing ranchers, conservationists and industry stakeholders need is to see this proposal backfire, making all too real the possibility of a future Endangered Species Act listing for the sage grouse.”
In a May letter, Wyden pressed the Interior Department to uphold the current sage grouse plans, which were created through a collaborative process involving broad local engagement and successfully prevented listing the species under the Endangered Species Act. A listing would harm local land users by creating uncertainty over public land management for ranchers, conservationists, sportsmen and industry stakeholders.