Feds remove protections for 10M acres of sage grouse habitat

Published on October 06, 2017 at 10:24AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Interior Department said Thursday it is withdrawing protections for 10 million acres of federal lands used by the threatened sage grouse to open it up for energy development.

The plan would allow mining and other development in areas where it now is prohibited in six Western states: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

The Bureau of Land Management, an Interior agency, said a recent analysis showed that mining or grazing would not pose a significant threat to the sage grouse, a ground-dwelling, chicken-like bird that roams across vast areas of the West.

The proposal would affect less than one-tenth of 1 percent of sage grouse-occupied range across 11 states from California to the Dakotas, officials said.

The change comes as the Trump administration moves to reconsider an Obama-era plan to protect the sage grouse, a quirky bird with long, pointed tail feathers and known for the male’s elaborate courtship display in which air sacs in the neck are inflated to make a popping sound.

Millions of sage grouse once roamed the West but development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires has reduced the bird’s population to fewer than 500,000.

A proposal by the Obama administration to protect 10 million acres from development “to prevent 10,000 (acres) from potential mineral development was a complete overreach,” said acting BLM Director Mike Nedd.