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BLM Cuts Acres in Colorado Auction on Sage Grouse Concerns

The Trump administration has withdrawn nearly 150,000 acres in northwestern Colorado from a December oil and natural gas lease sale, after top Colorado officials expressed concerns it could impact greater sage grouse habitat.

According to the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado, 142 parcels totaling 148,797 acres were removed from the sale, which was rescheduled to Dec. 13 from Dec. 6. Federal leases for an additional 81 parcels totaling 82,863 acres still will be offered.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet sent separate letters to acting BLM Colorado Director Gregory Shoop last month expressing concerns that the acreage package included sage grouse habitat, a contentious issue for most of the past decade.

BLM's decision to withdraw the acreage follows a ruling last month by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) had argued that an instruction memorandum (IM) issued by BLM in February was unlawful because it constrained the environmental review and public participation processes for oil and gas leases affecting grouse habitat. The environmental groups asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction and order BLM to revert to requirements issued in a separate IM from 2010.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush agreed to parts of the request for leases sales scheduled for 4Q2018 and December 2018, as well as for any successive sales. In a Sept. 21 ruling, Bush said BLM must revert to the 2010 rules for parcel review timeframes, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance documentation and lease sale parcel protests.

The preliminary injunction only applied to lease sales contained in whole or in part within BLM's Sage Grouse Plan Amendments, which recognized "planning area boundaries" within its "Greater Sage Grouse Habitat Management Areas."

WWP and CBD originally filed their complaint last April, alleging the Trump administration's orders and directives to promote and expedite oil and gas lease sales on public lands are illegal in the case WWP et al v. Zinke et al, No. 1:18-cv-187.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft environmental impact statement and amended land management plans covering sage grouse habitat in five western states. The greater sage grouse and other sage grouse habitat are found in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

"The habitat that the sage grouse is on is really important because it does a lot more than just support the sage grouse -- it supports a whole bunch of other wildlife species that people in Colorado care about," WWP spokeswoman Kelly Fuller said Tuesday in a Twitter post.

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