Friday, December 30, 2016

Feds offer 5 options, none preferred, to limit mines on public lands to protect greater sage grouse

Grouse mating ritual in Colorado (AP photo by David Zalubowski)
The Bureau of Land Management offered five options Thursday to limit mining on federal property to protect greater sage grouse, but took the unusual step of leaving the choice up to the new administration after a public-comment period ends in March.

"The options range from banning new mining activity on about 15,000 square miles for up to 20 years to imposing no additional restrictions on mine locations," reports Dan Elliott of The Associated Press. "The rules would affect sage grouse habitat on federal land in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Under all the options, mining and exploration projects already approved or underway could proceed. Energy companies could still extract oil and gas from any restricted lands, but they would have to use directional drilling from some distance away to avoid disturbing the surface."
Bureau of Land Management map; click on it to view a larger version
The posture of Trump's pick for Interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, toward the regulations is unclear. Up to 877,624 acres (1,320 square miles) in Montana could be affected. Randi Spivak of the the Center for Biological Diversity noted that Zinke describes himself as “a Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” interested in conservation of wildlife, but Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, called the options an “11th-hour attack on Nevada and the West.”

"An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 sage grouse remain in 11 Western states, but their numbers are down significantly because they are losing habitat to development," Elliott reports. "The size of the sage grouse population is considered an indicator of the overall health of the vast Western sagebrush ecosystem and other species that depend on it. The proposed mining restrictions are part of a broad plan to save the chicken-size bird without resorting to the Endangered Species Act, which could bring stricter limits on mining, drilling, agriculture and other activity." The options are part of a draft environmental impact statement.

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