Friday, October 18, 2019

Judge blocks Trump administration plan to weaken sage grouse protections, open up habitat to extraction industries

Sage grouse mating dance (BLM photo by Bob Wick)
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration's plan to weaken protections for the greater sage grouse in 10 Western states. The sage grouse is an unforgettably odd-looking bird whose sagebrush habitat happens to cover a lot of public land the government wants for drilling, mining and logging, Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times.

The preliminary injunction against the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management is temporary, but District Judge B. Lynn Winmill of Idaho indicated in his decision that the environmental organizations that filed suit are likely to prevail. The environmental organizations had filed suit on the grounds that the BLM didn't consider reasonable alternatives or thoroughly examine the environmental consequences of its actions, Friedman reports.

Sage grouse permanent habitat (Dakota Birds map)
Though the Interior Department argued that new leasing won't happen immediately, Winmill said the Court disagreed, and wrote that the plan was "designed to open up more land to oil, gas, and mineral extraction as soon as possible. That was the expressed intent of the Trump Administration and then-Secretary Ryan Zinke. There is no indication that current Secretary David Bernhardt is proceeding at any slower pace," Friedman reports.

"The decision is the first major legal ruling on the Trump administration’s plan to lift protections for the sage grouse," Friedman reports. "It represents a significant win for environmental activists, who have criticized it as a giveaway to the oil and gas industry that would devastate the nesting habitat of the bird."

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