The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has finalized Obama-era revisions to conserving greater sage grouse habitat in seven western states, in effect easing restrictions for oil and natural gas leasing.
BLM issued six records of decision (ROD) Friday for amended resource management plans (RMP) adopted in 2015 to conserve the ground dwelling bird's habitat in Northern California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Collectively, the RODs cover nearly 60 million acres of sagebrush steppe.
"The plans adopted...show that listening to and working with our neighbors at the state and local levels of government is the key to long-term conservation and to ensuring the viability of local communities across the West," said Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Several governors also voiced support for the RODs.
According to BLM, the amended plans retain the priority habitat designation (PHMA) for more than 29 million acres of agency-administered lands. Another 23 million acres would retain the general habitat (GHMA) designation. In PHMA areas, management priority is to exclude or avoid disturbing sage grouse habitat, while in GHMA areas the rules would apply in a more flexible manner "in line with local conditions and a state’s science-based objectives for species management," BLM said.
A total of 32.4 million acres will be managed as PHMA areas, while 25.6 million acres will be GHMA, the agency said.
The Trump administration launched an initiative on RMPs to eliminate what had been characterized as a "one-size-fits-all" approach under the Obama administration’s sage grouse protections. The agency also wanted to give states a higher profile in protecting habitat.
The changed were prompted by a ruling in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada in March 2017, which said BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for more than 2.8 million acres of sagebrush in Nevada and the northeastern part of California. BLM published the final amendments in December.