Just when it seemed the greater sage-grouse battle had ceased for now, the fight between a coalition of environmental groups and the State has been reignited.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, along with Idaho and Wyoming, are appealing an October court ruling that halted the administration’s plans to ease land-use restrictions for a handful of western states protecting greater sage-grouse populations.
The final Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan for sage-grouse management was introduced this past March and included amendments to Colorado, Idaho, Nevada/Northeastern California, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming sage-grouse management. Provisions in the plan included oil and gas drilling, mining activity, and other developments near greater sage-grouse habitats.
The Western Watersheds Project (WWP), Wildearth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, and Prairie Hills Audubon Society immediately filed suit against the State and asked for injunctive relief against the proposed sage-grouse plans.
“The BLM deliberately undermined protections for the sage-grouse, then had the audacity to claim these rollbacks would not impact the species,” said Sarah Stellberg, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, in an official statement. “The law demands more. This injunction is critical to protecting the sagebrush steppe and this icon of the American West.”
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted the injunction in mid-October, ruling the administration did not accurately analyze how sage-grouse would be impacted under the amended land-use restrictions.
“Certainly, the BLM is entitled to align its actions with the State plans, but when the BLM substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification—a hard look—in the [National Environmental Policy Act] documents,” Winmill’s opinion read.
With the injunction, BLM is only authorized to apply the 2015 sage-grouse plan to permits, licenses and other approvals until the original lawsuit is settled in court.
The State filed notices Dec. 16 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking a review regarding the October temporary injunction.
“We are definitely going to defend the appeal,” said Scott Lake of WWP. “I think the district court made the right call.” — Anna Miller, WLJ editor