Wildlife Groups Sue Over Revised Sage Grouse Plan

Mar 29, 2019

Credit Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Several wildlife conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court to reverse amendments they say undermine an Obama-era plan to protect sage grouse.

The lawsuit claims the amendment would open 50 million acres of the bird's habitat to drilling.

Michael Saul with the Center for Biological Diversity said that could seriously impact the species since the bird is still declining in some areas.

"The sage grouse is such an important canary in the sagebrush, as it were, to mix metaphors," said Saul. "Because it's both intensely loyal to particular areas in the landscape and intensely dependent on having large areas of intact, undisturbed sagebrush."

But Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation Leader Bob Budd says, in Wyoming, the amendments help align the federal permitting process so it matches the states'.

"There's no surprises, there's nothing that I think is going to pose a huge challenge to the species and we're going to continue to move forward in the same way we've been doing now since 2007," Budd said.

Saul said he agrees, but only in part.

"The federal land plans for Wyoming are more refinements, although I'd note that none of them improve protections for sage grouse, all of them remove protections and make it easier for oil and gas drilling in particular."

Saul said Wyoming's protections may be strong, but the species could still end up on the Endangered Species List because neighboring Idaho and Utah haven't adopted as many state policies to protect it.