Today, the Interior Department announced it will be working toward broad changes to the landmark sage grouse conservation plans, putting the fate of the greater sage grouse and the more than 350 species that its habitat supports at risk of survival.
The notice of intent to change the plans starts a 45-day comment period and is consistent with the Secretary's direction to focus on energy dominance - risking useful conservation measures, such as habitat protections and lek buffers for the benefit of oil, gas and mining companies.
While the notice also refers to working closely with western governors, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not wait for feedback from states and state outreach efforts on what (if any) changes to the plans were actually needed before formally cementing this process, as he said he would, following his August recommendations review of the plans.
Because of the importance of its sagebrush habitat, the health of the sage grouse determines the survival of an entire ecosystem, including the golden eagle, elk, pronghorn and mule deer. The current plans reduce the threat of extinction by focusing on the most important habitat, but also ensure other activities continue on these public lands, representing conservation and collaborative work at its finest.
“The Interior Department is traversing down a dangerous path that could put this vital habitat at risk,” said Nada Culver, senior director of policy and planning at The Wilderness Society.
“These plans took nearly a decade of collaboration and planning with a variety of western stakeholders, and should not be torn apart in mere months.”