Denver (February 19, 2020) – “The environmental review process announced today by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is nothing more than window dressing for a process that they should be taking seriously,” said Nada Culver, vice president for public lands and senior policy counsel with the National Audubon Society. “This attempt by the administration to get around their loss in court last year is yet another egregious example of their concerted effort to undermine needed protections for sage-grouse, not a genuine commitment to remedy the significant flaws in their last attempt, despite a court giving them clear direction. They have repeatedly ignored science, and disregarded public input and common sense in their mission to upend a historic and popular multi-state, bi-partisan plan that was achieved more than four years ago.”
In October, a federal judge in the District Court of Idaho ruled that the BLM 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 ruling put the landmark 2015 BLM plans enacted for the Greater Sage-Grouse back in effect until the court makes a final decision on the lawsuit challenging planned rollbacks.
The court found that the BLM likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a number of ways by failing to consider the effects of making changes contrary to accepted science, 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.
“The irony of this move by the BLM is that they claim to be merely attempting to comply with NEPA, while the White House is gutting it and BLM is following suit,” said Brian Rutledge, director of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative with the National Audubon Society. “BLM’s latest attempt at smoke and mirrors can’t obscure their true intent. They have repeatedly shown their commitment to removing vital protections for the sage-grouse in favor of a single-use of our public lands, as part of their energy dominance agenda. The federal administration continues to look at their own short-term political gains despite what is in the best interest of western communities.”
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 BLM plans to prioritize development outside important habitat.
The role that the BLM plays in the management of the habitat where this iconic western bird is found is critical to determining its future, as a majority of the bird are found on federally managed lands across 11 states. The 2015 plans included strong science-based protections for the bird’s most important habitat and assurances that there would be limits to the amount of habitat damaged, which were the foundation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the species did not warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In March 2019, the BLM finalized dramatically weakened amendments to its 2015 plans, leading to a legal challenge by a number of conservation groups, including the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, and Prairie Hills Audubon Society.
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