Press Room

Federal Court Halts Administration Plans to Rollback Sage-Grouse Protections

Ruling makes clear that the Administration ignored science and cut out the public

WASHINGTON (October 16, 2019) – A federal judge in the District Court of Idaho, today, ruled that the Bureau of Land Management must halt its plans to expand leasing, drilling, and other industrial activities across millions of acres of habitat for the greater sage-grouse. This range includes Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California, and Oregon. The landmark 2015 plans enacted for the Greater Sage-Grouse will be in effect until the court makes a final decision on the lawsuit challenging planned rollbacks.

“This ruling underscores what so many stakeholders who fought against these amendments said,” said Nada Culver, Vice President for Public Lands, National Audubon Society. “The judge made it clear that the Administration ignored the best available science, removed key protections in the plans and did so in a manner that cut out the public. The court agreed that these amendments were wrong for the sage-grouse and wrong under the law.”

To issue an injunction, the court needed to find both that there was a substantial likelihood the plaintiffs would succeed on the merits of their legal claims and that they would be irreparably harmed without an injunction. The court found that the Bureau of Land Management likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act in a number of ways by failing to consider the cumulative impacts of the change across the affected states, failing to look at other alternatives, and failing to conduct additional analysis despite making major changes to the use of compensatory mitigation to address harm to habitat.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: “The record shows that the 2019 Plan Amendments were 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.” A July 2019 report issued by Audubon, along with the National Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society, proves this is indeed the case, finding major increases in leasing and drilling in sage-grouse habitat authorized by this Administration despite a requirement in the 2015 Plans to prioritize development outside habitat.

The 2015 plans included strong protections for the most important habitat and commitments to ensure a net conservation gain for habitat that is damaged and protective, which were relied on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find that the species no longer warranted listing under the Endangered Species Act. Amendments put in place by the Bureau of Land Management in March of 2019 rolled back key aspects of the 2015 plans, leading to a legal challenge by a number of other conservation groups, including the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Prairie Hills Audubon Society.

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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 www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

Media Contact: Matt Smelser, matt.smelser@audubon.org, 202.516.5593

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