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Federal sage grouse protection plan draws criticism

The federal government released a new plan for managing sage grouse habitat in Wyoming on Friday. The Bureau of Land Management says the plan will allow for consistent policies across federal and state lands, while protecting the bird from an endangered species listing.

The protections would apply to 16 million acres of federal land within the state -- or roughly a quarter of Wyoming’s total surface area. The preferred alternative outlined in the plan would limit some development in those areas, but environmental groups say the restrictions aren't based in solid science.

Erik Molvar, with WildEarth Guardians, says the BLM's preferred plan allows more disturbance than was recommended by the agency’s advisory panels.

“The majority of sage grouse populations in Wyoming are on those public lands, and Wyoming has more than half of the sage grouse left in the world," he says. "So what happens in these federal plans here in Wyoming is of crucial significance to whether we’re going to have sage grouse in a hundred years at all, or whether the species is going to go extinct entirely.”

BLM spokesperson Beverly Gorny says all input was weighed.

“We followed the best available feedback we got from the collaborators we worked with, and that’s why we put a draft out with what’s we’ve got right now. We’re going to see what comes back to us in public comment and make adjustments accordingly.”

The 90-day public comment period ends March 24. The BLM is hoping to issue a final plan by the end of 2014 and the Fish and Wildlife Service will then reconsider whether to list sage grouse as endangered.

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