Obama Sage Grouse Plan now under reviewWASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants a 60-day review of the sage grouse protection plans launched during the Obama administration.
That far-reaching plan called for sage grouse protection covering millions of acres across 11 Western States.
Zinke says that while the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect the endangered bird, "we also have a responsibility to be a good neighbor and a good partner."
He says a directive that could "destroy local economies" or impose onerous regulations on public lands "is no way to be a good neighbor."
Zinke said he’s traveled widely through the West including a trip to Idaho last week and heard complaints that the government had been “heavy-handed” in putting the current plan together and there was a lot of “mistrust and anger” over the issue.
“There’s been complaints by several of the governors that their ability to use federal lands, whether it’s for oil and gas, recreation, timber, across the board, that some of the heavy-handedness on habitat doesn’t allow for some of those uses,” Secretary Zinke said.
“I’m encouraged by Secretary Zinke’s commitment to review the Obama Administration’s draconian sage-grouse plans,” said Idaho Governor Butch Otter. “The Secretarial Order appropriately recognizes the states as being full and equal partners in the management and conservation of greater sage-grouse in the West. I look forward to working with the Secretary and his agency to address our concerns and bring about meaningful and necessary changes to the federal plan in Idaho. ”
A sage grouse team will evaluate the current management plans and report its findings with recommendations for next steps within 60 days, Zinke said in a call with reporters.
The review will be done the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey. Zinke said they would be looking at whether the current plan places too much emphasis on habitat protection as opposed to bird population, and whether more up-to-date technology, including drones, could be used in counting the animals and protecting habitat.
Environmental groups were concerned at Zinke’s announcement issued Thursday morning saying that the Secretaries order “runs the risk of derailing an effort to save the grouse and the habitat that supports 350 other species,” said Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The work to save the greater sage grouse represents one of the most collaborative and significant conservation efforts in American history,” he said in the Federation release.
“The conservation plans written by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service were compiled state input, local governments, landowners, conservationists, and others, are ready to go and should be carried out, not put on hold while sage grouse and their habitat face ongoing threats,” added O’Mara.
While Zinke said that some governors had complained to him about the current plans, Governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, and Matt Mead of Wyoming, a Republican, were not among them. The two officials wrote to Zinke opposing any changes that would move “from a habitat-management model to one that sets population objectives for the states.”
Greater sage grouse once numbered in the millions in the Western states but their population is now estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000, mostly due to loss of habitat.
Zinke also said he wants to hear what state officials and ranchers have to say, and said environmental groups already had their say under the Obama plan. He thinks the States and the ranchers that live and work on the land have constructive and innovative ideas to build the population of sage grouse.