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Regional Interests

US Bureau of Land Management reconsiders protecting 10 million acres of sage grouse habitat

Sage grouse, pictured here in an undated file photo, are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Sage grouse, pictured here in an undated file photo, are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is reviewing a proposal to restrict mining, oil and gas drilling, and other extractive activities on 10 million acres of sage grouse habitat in Oregon and other Western states.

The greater sage grouse is a chesty bird hailed as an icon of the American West. The bird is not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but its population has declined about 80% since 1965, according to the Audubon Society.

The primary threats to sage grouse are habitat loss and fragmentation, which is why champions of the bird have sought to box out extractive industry.

The Obama administration temporarily enacted a plan to withdraw what are called “sagebrush focal areas” from mining and drilling during the president’s second term, but called for a full environmental review to make the withdrawal permanent. The Trump administration, upon taking office, abandoned that plan, opening those 10 million acres for business.

But a federal judge later vacated the Trump administration’s decision, ordering the BLM to restart the environmental review process. The agency quickly indicated it would comply.

The BLM announced Friday that it would soon publish a draft environmental impact statement and request public comment, as directed by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Western Watersheds Project, which co-led the lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision, said in a press release the withdrawal of 10 million acres is “necessary” but doesn’t go far enough to protect sage grouse.

“Scientists have recommended protecting all priority sage grouse habitats from all types of mineral extraction disturbance, not just the subset of those areas as proposed in today’s announcement,” the project’s energy and mining campaign director, Kelly Fuller, said in the release.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting