The Bureau of Land Management is updating Obama-era plans to manage the sage grouse in 10 western states.
The BLM posted a request for comments to update the bird habitat management plans in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and other western states.
The Interior Ministry’s agency will review new scientific data, including the effects of climate change, to determine how to manage the bird’s habitat, a press release said on Nov. 19.
BLM director Tracy Stone-Manning said in the press release that the agency would “build on” the model developed under President Barack Obama, which interior officials at the time had credited with saving the sage hen from being listed in the Endangered Species Act.
But the agency needs to first collect data to determine what needs to be updated after President Donald Trump’s administration undermined conservation efforts.
“The plans for 2015 laid solid foundations, but actions taken during the previous administration prevented those plans from happening,” said Stone-Manning. “As we build on the earlier plans, we wonder if we should take other steps in light of the new science.”
Sage chickens are abundant in an area of 167 million hectares in arid western bushland and meadows, where mugwort is the dominant plant.
However, the habitat of the sage grouse is threatened by human activities, including oil and gas development and the expansion of agriculture, as well as the effects of climate change. The US Geological Survey earlier this year estimated that sage grouse populations have declined 80% since 1965 and 40% since 2002.
Known for its bizarre mating, the sage hen has been a source of political controversy for years over the effects of federal protection on rural industries.
In 2015, under Obama’s BLM and Forest Service, in consultation with state agencies and private landowners, amended nearly 100 land use plans to encourage efforts to protect the sage. The plan also recommended that 10 million acres of sage grouse habitat be excluded from eligibility for mining.
Interior Secretary at the time, Sally Jewell, called the plan “truly historic” on a landscape scale because of its scope and cooperation efforts. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that as a result of this plan, the species is no longer eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
But under President Donald Trump in 2017, Home Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former member of the Montana Republican House of Representatives, overturned the mining ordinance and directed the department to look for ways to keep development in line with the 2015 plan to enable protected areas.
A 2019 analysis commissioned by conservation groups The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Audubon Society found that federal permits for oil and gas leases for sage grouse habitats fell in the first two years of the Trump administration in the Compared to the last 15 months have tripled Obama’s tenure.
Alison Holloran, vice president of the National Audubon Society and executive director of the Audubon Rockies regional office, said it was crucial to understand how circumstances have changed since the 2015 action and suggests that more far-reaching action may be needed.
“The reintroduction of the plans for 2015 was an important step, but we are in a different place than six years ago,” she said in a group press release on Monday. “We have lost a lot of time preserving and restoring this public land that is so important to the sage. The threats to the bird are real and cannot be ignored. “