New Report Finds Increased Oil and Gas Leasing and Drilling in Priority Sage-Grouse Habitat

Despite a formal directive to keep leasing, drilling outside sage-grouse habitat, federal agencies have pushed to develop in priority habitat.

WASHINGTON – This week, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and The Wilderness Society released a report finding that the Trump administration’s Interior Department, now led by Secretary David Bernhardt, has failed to prioritize oil and gas leasing and drilling outside sage-grouse habitat, despite a formal directive to do so, while at the same time working to undermine protections for the bird and its habitat.

“The 2015 federal sage-grouse plans were a major factor in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The administration has now abandoned one of the key commitments in the plans, which was for the Bureau of Land Management to prioritize oil and gas leasing and development outside of sage-grouse habitat,” said Nada Culver the Vice President of Public Lands and Senior Policy Counsel for the National Audubon Society. “This administration’s cavalier violation of the 2015 plans has had dramatic consequences on the ground in terms of land leased and permits to drill issued, and led to lawsuits challenging their irresponsible actions.” 

This report comes on the heels of the administration making dramatic changes to the 2015 plans that make it even easier for oil and gas companies to lease and drill in sage-grouse habitat. 

"What most Westerners want when it comes to oil and gas development is a balanced, responsible approach,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, Vice President for Public Lands for the National Wildlife Federation. “These numbers – the federal government’s own numbers – show us that that is not happening."

The findings of this report make clear that while sage-grouse and other wildlife rely on strong federal protections, instead, the Trump administration is targeting many of the West’s most sensitive wildlife habitats for widespread drilling. 

“The increased leasing of priority habitats, which will likely result in increased energy development in these habitats, has the potential to negatively impact sage-grouse populations directly at regional scales and has the potential to disrupt connectivity by fragmenting habitats which would jeopardize range-wide conservation of the species,” said Matt Holloran, leading scientist in greater sage-grouse research.

Report Toplines

In total, between Jan. 2017 and March 2019, the Trump administration issued 2,339 leases comprising 2.4 million acres acres and 3,570 drilling permits in sage-grouse habitat. Additional topline data from the report illustrates the significant shift under this administration to increase leasing and drilling in sage-grouse habitat, including priority habitat. Relative to the Obama administration:

  • The number of acres leased per month in sage-grouse habitat was 3 times higher under Trump.

  • The number of acres leased per month in priority habitat was 10 times higher under Trump.

  • The number of drilling permits approved per month in sage-grouse habitat was twice as high under Trump.

  • The number of drilling permits approved per month in priority habitat was 7 times higher under Trump.

The full report is available on Audubon's website here. A recording of Monday morning’s telepresser, during which the report was officially released can be found here

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.  Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation.  State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action.  A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.Learn more at and @audubonsociety.

Contact: Nicolas Gonzalez,, (212) 979-3068.