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Wyoming Coalition Challenges Sage Grouse Plans

A Wyoming coalition of counties and conservation groups last Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Wyoming in Cheyenne, challenging efforts to protect the greater sage grouse over parts of 11 western states, including Wyoming, where Gov. Matt Mead has embraced the efforts (see Daily GPISept. 22, 2015).

The Wyoming Coalition of Local Governments joined lawsuits filed by ranchers, mining companies and others calling management changes on federal lands to protect the ground-dwelling birds "overreach" by the federal government. Separately environmentalists have also filed lawsuits arguing the protection plans are insufficient.

Last September, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), various states and other stakeholder groups unveiled what Interior Secretary Sally Jewel called the largest land conservation effort ever undertaken, protecting the greater sage grouse with public-private conservation programs at the state level and not through Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing.

The county/conservation group coalition's legal filing alleges that the federal government "sterilized massive areas of public land" against multiple use and natural resource development. The lawsuit said the current protection plans are based on "insufficient analysis and flawed science."

Members of the coalition include the counties of Uinta, Lincoln and Sublette in western Wyoming, along with conservation districts that are local government entities focused on protecting land and water resources.

For years, protection of the greater sage grouse has been a major political, economic and environmental issue for 11 western states and the subject of intense interest among members of the oil/natural gas industry and western state governors. Resolving the ESA decision brought together an increasingly unlikely set of allies, including the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Western Governors' Association (WGA), now chaired by Wyoming's Mead, has been an active participant in working with the federal government to address the sage grouse concerns. In the wake of last year's federal decision to not list the greater sage grouse as endangered or threatened, Mead launched a regional initiative to reform the ESA as incoming WGA chairman (see Shale DailySept. 23, 2015).

In heading WGA, Mead has made ESA reform one of his key initiatives, and the greater sage grouse issue continues to be a catalyst for this initiative.

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