Playing Chicken with Extinction

For Immediate Release
10/5/2017

Contact:
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project (307) 399-7910

Playing Chicken with Extinction
Trump Administration Reopens Sage-grouse Plans to Weaken Habitat Protections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to a forthcoming federal register
notice and a press statement released today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pressing ahead with plans to reopen the Obama-era Greater Sage-grouse Plan Amendments that agencies relied on in denying Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to this species in 2015. Industry groups objected at the time to the protections the plan amendments place on key habitats, and it now appears that the Trump Administration is planning to ease those restrictions to enable more fossil fuel, mining, grazing, and other extractive uses on public lands.

“This administration is playing chicken with the sage-grouse extinction,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “The Department of Interior is now abandoning all pretense of protecting sage-grouse in a stampede to ramp up commercial exploitation of public lands.”

The 2015 plans designated Priority Habitat Management Areas with modest increases in sage-grouse protections, but also included a crazy-quilt of loopholes and exemptions that reduce the likelihood that sage-grouse will survive and recover. Conservation groups have expressed concerns that the Trump Administration plans to widen those loopholes and further undermine the enforceability of the plans. The administration’s focus on high quality habitat designations, mitigation requirements, and disturbance buffers around sage-grouse leks in the Notice of Intent amplifies these concerns.

“It seems obvious that the goal is to undo any of the previous plans’ limits to resource extraction,” said Molvar. “This comes as no surprise from an Interior Department that is gutting national monuments, undermining federal environmental laws, and turning over management authority for public lands belonging to all Americans  to the whims of state and local politics.”

Western Watersheds Project and a coalition of allies are currently litigating the earlier plans because of their departures from the agencies’ own scientific recommendations of what the grouse needs to survive. The goal of that lawsuit is to see the plans strengthened; it is unclear what effect today’s announcement will have on ongoing litigation.

“If the Trump administration really wanted to improve the sage grouse plans, they would close the loopholes and bring protections up to scientific standards,” said Molvar. “But clearly their priority is to remove or undermine the habitat protections for the benefit of industrial and commercial operations on public-land grouse habitats. Both the sage-grouse and the western public lands it inhabits face grave threats as a result.”
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