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Natural Resources & Energy

Wildlife Advocacy Groups File Suit Over Federal Sage Grouse Plans

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Last fall, many groups celebrated when the federal government decided not to list the sage grouse as an endangered species and rolled out plans to ensure the bird’s populations didn’t continue to dwindle. But now a group of wildlife advocacy organizations is suing the federal government for not making those plans strong enough. 

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds and Prairie Hills Audubon Society are among the groups suing the federal government. WildEarth Guardians wildlife biologist Erik Molvar says the Bureau of Land Management collected a lot of good science on how to save sage grouse but it didn’t all make it into the plans.

“Well, we’re not trying to upset the apple cart,” he says. “We’re simply trying to pluck out the rotten apples and fix the wheels so it rolls properly. Essentially, we want to keep the plans in place but we want to make sure that the protections measures that apply, particularly to those priority habitats where the sage grouse are most concentrated, are adequate based on the science.”

Molvar says one of the biggest problems is that, in Wyoming--where 40 percent of the bird’s population is located-- oil and gas development is allowed in the bird’s protected areas. That's not the case in other states. Molvar says this shows that the federal government allowed industry to influence the plans.

Molvar concedes that the plans do require that grazing leasers must leave at least seven inches of grass for sage grouse to hide in. “That was good, but here’s the problem,” Molvar says. “The plans don’t require those grass heights to be applied right away to the grazing permits.”

He says the grass height protections don’t kick in for ten years.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin needs stronger protections too, Molvar says, since that population could go extinct in the next few decades. Right now, he says, 72% of those birds now live outside protected areas where development is still allowed.

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