WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Trump administration took a giant step backward by announcing its final decision to dismantle the 2015 Sage Grouse Conservation Plans. Those landmark plans were the result of hard work by a bipartisan coalition of western governors, ranchers and conservationists, who carefully balanced economic concerns with wildlife protections.
The new directive, led by Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, puts oil and gas interests above the desires of westerners, who want to ensure the Greater Sage-Grouse and 350 other plant and animal species can continue to thrive in a healthy sagebrush ecosystem. Under the new plan, protections will be lifted on more than 8 million acres of sage grouse areas, waivers and exceptions for oil and gas drilling will be granted, and the states will functionally be tasked with enforcing habitat protections.
“The Department of Interior manages half of the sage grouse habitat in this country. It’s one thing to say you want to partner with the states. It’s quite another to completely abdicate your responsibilities to them,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice-president of public lands for the National Wildlife Federation. “There are so many loopholes and waivers in these new plans that the sage grouse is likely back on the path toward listing on the Endangered Species Act. That’s the very thing Westerners worked for ten years to avoid.”
“Nevada hunters and anglers played a key role in crafting the 2015 plans which protected sage grouse while sustaining local economies and our Western way of life,” said Robert Gaudet, president of the Nevada Wildlife Federation. “Westerners care about our wildlife and public lands. By tearing apart the 2015 agreement, the Department of Interior is silencing the voices of hundreds of thousands of Westerners who supported those plans.”
“By dismantling the federal protections that had been in place for the last three years, the federal government risks the destruction of the sagebrush ecosystem that is home to over 350 plant and animal species,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “I hope we can count on western governors to be vigilant in protecting these lands, since we cannot count on an administration that promotes “energy dominance” over all other interests.”
The sage grouse, which once numbered 16 million, has dwindled to fewer than 500,000. The bird is considered an “indicator species” so its decline signals the decline of the entire ecosystem. The new directive removes protective buffers around fragile breeding grounds and allows oil and gas companies to build structures on formerly protected lands. It no longer prioritizes drilling in non-sage grouse areas first and – most worrisome – it no longer requires oil and gas companies to mitigate any damage they cause.
“It’s now up to the states to ensure the Department of Interior does not use these loopholes and waivers to lease lands in the middle of important sage grouse habitat,” said Stone-Manning. “Although a patchwork, state-by-state approach to landscape-conservation is never ideal, we hope the Western governors will hold Interior accountable and adhere to the spirit of the 2015 plans to ensure that this iconic bird—and the other wildlife who live in this sacred landscape – will continue to be protected for generations to come,” said Stone-Manning.
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