Mining ban lift overturned
On Feb. 10, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill overturned a Trump administration’s action, which allowed mining and other development on 10 million acres across six western states deemed important for the survival of greater sage grouse.
In 2017, Trump lifted this ban, which was imposed by President Barack Obama, allowing the potential for mining and other development in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming. At the time, officials conducted an analysis showing mining and/or grazing would not pose a significant threat to sage grouse.
According to Winmill, the 2017 ban cancellation was arbitrary and failed to fully consider the impact of mining on sage grouse populations. Therefore, Winmill ordered the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to reconsider the impact on sage grouse populations and if mining should be allowed.
Several environmentalist groups including Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Prairie Hills Audubon Society call the ruling a big win.
“The Obama administration found digging up one percent of sage grouse habitats rangewide and turning them into strip mines with noisy and disruptive industrial activity had a significant impact requiring a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement,” wrote the groups in a news release dated Feb. 15.
On the other hand, National Mining Association Spokesperson Conor Bernstein said the group was disappointed in the Feb. 10 ruling, noting they believed the Trump administration had correctly decided blocking mining across such a broad area was unreasonable.
“We still firmly believe the science and evidence in front of the agencies led them to the right conclusion,” he said.
Sage grouse in Wyoming
According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Wyoming is home to 38 percent of the world’s sage grouse population, supporting over 1,800 known and occupied leks.
“Wyoming is a sage grouse stronghold,” stated Leslie Schreiber, WGFD sage grouse and sagebrush biologist. “Numbers remain even high enough to support hunting of the bird.”
In fact, WGFD data from 2020 shows reproduction and sage grouse populations in the state held steady.
Data was based on the collection of wings from harvested chicks and hens from hunters across Wyoming who voluntarily contributed sage grouse wings by dropping them off at designated collection points during the hunting season.
According to WGFD, hunters deposited wings from 980 chicks and 874 hens, mirroring Wyoming’s 2019 chick to hen ratio at 1.1 chicks per hen.
While Schreiber noted a growing population needs at least 1.5 chicks per hen, she also pointed out sage grouse are known for their natural rises and falls in reproductive trends, which has been documented for nearly six decades.
Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.