The U.S. Forest Service is proposing changes to sage grouse protections that would make it easier to develop — especially energy — on vast swaths of land where the chicken-like bird lives.
There are several tiers of sage grouse protections in the Forest Service’s current plans. These were initially approved in 2015 to help prevent the bird from becoming endangered. The proposed changes would do away with the highest tier, and remove the state and federal cooperation required to approve development in special cases.
Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said energy operations do not mix well with sage grouse.
“It’s going to increase the likelihood that they ultimately are going to be on the road to extinction,” he said.
A sage grouse coordinator with the Forest Service said the goal is to protect habitat while also making more land available to recreation, mining and grazing.
The Forest Service is giving the public 90 days to comment. The Interior Department is also looking at changing its sage grouse plans, with an eye towards promoting energy development.