The Interior Department just released its final proposal on sage-grouse conservation plans through six final environmental impact statements (FEIS). The iconic bird occupies 11 western states and is considered an important indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem.
The Trump Administration's new plan would make it easier to lease nearly 50 million acres of sage grouse habitat for development, mostly in Wyoming and Utah, plus some in Colorado. The FEIS' would also open up about nine million acres from ending the sagebrush focal area designation, though that primarily impacts hard-rock mining.
Michael Saul, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said all the proposed federal changes go strongly in one direction.
"They all make it easier to drill wells or graze cows in sage grouse habitat and they all make it less certain that sage grouse will survive," he said.
All sage-grouse occupied states do have their own set of regulations, though Wyoming's are the strictest. Bob Budd leads Wyoming's sage grouse implementation team and said development still requires state approval.
"Simply leasing it does not necessarily trump the plan in the state. You still have to go through our process," he said.
Wyoming is home to about 37 percent of the remaining sage grouse population. No amendments were proposed in the Dakotas or Montana. With the published final EIS and proposed resource management plan amendments, the 30-day protest period begins today.