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Administration set to release sage grouse plan

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A recent article published by E&E News on March 7 reports the Biden administration is expected to release a plan to save the Greater sage grouse, which would impose most of the Obama-era restrictions to block oil drilling and other activities near the bird’s habitat, according to people familiar with the plan.

The Greater sage grouse has been one of the most controversial issues in the West, as many believe protecting the bird’s sagebrush habitat means limiting drilling, renewable energy projects, mining and livestock grazing.

According to the article, “After years of negotiations with environmentalists, state leaders and industries operating on federal land, the Obama administration in 2015 came out with its plan to safeguard the most sensitive grouse habitat across 10 states, and in 2019, the Trump administration rewrote those regulations, giving states more leeway to green light projects near grouse breeding grounds.”

Now, it’s reported the Biden administration is set to offer its compromise affecting conservationists, state leaders and industry advocates. 

“The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) latest proposal returns to the Obama plan but incorporates some of Trump’s flexibility, said an Interior Department official and two state government officials familiar with the draft, who were all granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly,” states the E&E News article. “However, a BLM spokesperson declined to update the status of the draft plan or the alternatives expected to be in it.”

Saving the Greater sage grouse 

BLM oversees an estimated 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat and the regulations governing federal lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Over the years, these states have had issues drilling for oil and gas or mining without encroaching on at least some of the bird’s habitat. 

Now, the Biden administration, which wants to build out renewable energy projects on federal land, commercial-scale wind farms and high-tower electric transmission lines, will also need to work around sagebrush ecosystems.

E&E News states, “The main focus of the updated plan is to incorporate updated scientific research and field data which more accurately identifies where sage grouse thrive and to set priority habitat boundaries where activities which displace the bird would be restricted, said all three officials.”

The three unidentified officials who spoke to E&E News say, “BLM’s draft environmental impact statement is expected to include a ‘preferred alternative’ which mirrors the land-use restrictions in the original Obama administration plan, including ‘no surface occupancy’ rules which ban land disturbance and seasonal restrictions on activities near sensitive grouse habitat, but it will also include a greater adherence to state maps designating priority habitat areas that were in the Trump revisions.” 

The BLM has been working since November 2021 to develop an updated plan, involving Western governors, state wildlife agencies, federal agencies and academic researchers.

Also, BLM would need to amend dozens of federal land management plans to incorporate measures to protect the bird’s most sensitive habitat.

The article notes the Trump administration and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reworked the federal plans to reflect state concerns as a top priority in 2019, and those revisions drew bipartisan support from Western leaders.

However, environmentalists sued and an Idaho judge issued an injunction blocking revisions, keeping the 2015 plans in place.

Anticipating the next steps

E&E News further notes, “The latest proposal expected this month will come as Greater sage grouse populations across the bird’s Western-state range have rebounded slightly in the last year after sharp population declines in most states over the past decade, the U.S. Geological Survey reported in a recent population trend analysis.”

“These plans need to require habitat protections Greater sage grouse need in order to avoid extinction, and the good news is we have the science showing us exactly what to do,” Randi Spivak, public lands policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells E&E News.

“What sage grouse need to thrive doesn’t vary by state, so there should be no exemptions for mining, transmission lines and other habitat-destroying activities,” she says. “Time is running out for Greater sage grouse and the hundreds of plants and animals depending on the sagebrush sea. Their survival depends on what we do next.”

Sigrid Johannes, director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Government Association Affairs points to research, stating, “It has been shown grazing helps build healthier habitat for the Greater sage grouse, and livestock grazing and sage grouse can thrive together.”

Johannes further notes ranchers want to see commonsense updates to old plans which reflect what many have learned since 2015, including a greater emphasis on addressing predator species such as ravens, which she said are a much bigger challenge to sage grouse than many previously thought.

The draft plan is not expected to address the fate of controversial sagebrush focal area designations included in the 2015 plans as areas deemed critical to the survival of the grouse and worthy of special protection, according to the Department of the Interior official familiar with the draft, notes E&E News.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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