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Interior chief's sage grouse review order sparks reaction

Wyden blasts, Walden applauds move

(Update with critic's reaction)

WASHINGTON (AP) - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is ordering a review of federal efforts to conserve the imperiled sage grouse to ensure that officials in 11 Western states where the bird lives are fully consulted.

Zinke says that while the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect the ground-dwelling bird, "we also have a responsibility to be a good neighbor and a good partner."

He says a directive that could "destroy local economies" or impose onerous regulations on public lands "is no way to be a good neighbor."

Zinke made the comments Wednesday as he announced a review of a 2015 conservation plan put in place by the Obama administration. The plan set land-use policies intended to keep the popular game bird off the endangered species list.

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Dept. of Interior news release:

Secretary Zinke Signs Order to Improve Sage-Grouse Conservation, Strengthen Communication and Collaboration Between States and Feds

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, late yesterday, signed a Secretarial Order 3353 to improve sage-grouse conservation and strengthen communication and collaboration between state and federal governments. Together, the Federal government and states will work to conserve and protect sage-grouse and its habitat while also ensuring conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities.

In signing Secretarial Order 3353, Secretary Zinke established an internal review team that will evaluate both Federal sage-grouse plans and state plans and programs to ensure they are complementary. As the team explores possible plan modifications, it will also consider local economic growth and job creation.

“While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to responsibly manage wildlife, but destroying local communities and levying onerous regulations on the public lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neighbor," said Secretary Zinke. "State agencies are at the forefront of efforts to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations, and we need to make sure they are being heard on this issue. As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don't want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan.”

In September 2015, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture finalized the greater sage-grouse plans, which included amendments and revisions to 98 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service land use plans in 11 Western states. The plans were cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a key reason for its decision that the greater sage-grouse did not merit protection under the Endangered Species Act. Protection under the act could potentially stifle economic development across large areas of the American West where more than half of sage-grouse habitat is on public lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service.

The Secretary has asked this interagency team of experts from the BLM, FWS, and U.S. Geological Survey to focus on addressing the principal threats to rangeland health and sage-grouse habitat—invasive grasses and wildland fire. The team will also consider creative approaches and ideas, including a captive breeding program, setting population targets by state, and opportunities to improve state involvement.

The team will examine the plans in light of policies set forth in Secretarial Order 3349, American Energy Independence. To this end, the team will be asked to identify plan provisions that may need to be adjusted or rescinded based on the potential for energy and other development on public lands.

This Secretarial Order follows through on statements Secretary Zinke made during his confirmation hearing, when he stated that he understands each state has different needs and issues and committed to working with them and local communities. He concluded that together the Federal government, states and western communities will get this job done.

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One critic called the review a slap in the face to governors and advocates on both sides of the aisle who worked tirelessly to develop a bipartisan conservation plan.

"Secretary Zinke's order undermines years of bipartisan collaboration to conserve the greater sage-grouse. It is a slap in the face to Western communities, coalitions, wildlife managers, private landowners, industry groups, and governors in both parties - all who diligently worked to find common ground and a workable solution to prevent the bird from landing on the endangered species list," said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.

"Secretary Zinke's careless disregard for the bipartisan support of the existing greater sage-grouse protections is a surefire way to invite more lawsuits and conflict, while jeopardizing jobs and economic development in rural areas."

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Sen. Ron Wyden news release:

Wyden Blasts Interior Department’s Attempt to Undo Federal Sage Grouse Plans

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today blasted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announcement that the department would review federal land management plans for the Greater Sage-grouse for their potential to impede oil and gas development on public lands. 

The review, issued in the form of a Secretarial Order, 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.

“Westerners worked in an unprecedented way to create the current sage grouse conservation plans that are widely supported and serve as a model for future successful collaboration,” Wyden said. “By issuing this review, the Interior Department is ignoring the input of local stakeholders who spent years working to avoid a damaging Endangered Species Act listing and find a path forward for sage grouse habitat management.

“When it comes to managing the traditional multiple uses of our public lands, the Interior Department must ensure that all local stakeholders have a seat at the table, not just those who agree with this administration’s goals of benefitting the oil and gas industry.”

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. Such a listing would harm local land users by creating uncertainty for ranchers, conservationists, sportsmen and industry stakeholders.

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Rep. Greg Walden news release:

Greg Walden applauds Department of Interior review of sage grouse plans
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) released the following statement applauding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's secretarial order establishing a review of federal sage grouse plans:
 
“I am pleased to see Secretary Zinke order this review and direct the agencies to work more closely with communities in Oregon and across the West to determine a better path forward for the sage grouse plans. Over the last few years, I’ve heard concerns from ranchers and community leaders about the impacts of onerous grazing provisions and mineral withdrawals on local economies. Unfortunately, these concerns were largely ignored in the final sage grouse plans. Ranchers and private landowners in eastern Oregon are doing great cooperative work to help sage grouse and have valuable firsthand knowledge that can improve federal land management. I am encouraged that Secretary Zinke wants to involve and listen to local input in this review to determine how to move forward in a way that doesn't put our rural communities out of business."  

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