The Interior Department is expected to take its first tangible step in making large changes to sage grouse management plans. Ninety-eight of these plans were established in 2015 across 10 western states. They came after more than a decade of collaboration in hopes of avoiding an endangered species listing for the chicken-like bird.
Several groups and agency officials have said the Interior Department plans to file a Notice of Intent looking to begin the process of changing those rules. It’s hard to say exactly how they’ll look - but will likely look similar to a report released in early August by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Many saw the proposed changes as an effort to weaken protections in favor of jobs and energy development.
Environmental Defense Fund’s Eric Holst said he sees the secretary’s plans as a step towards an endangered species listing. So, his group doesn’t plan to say silent.
“We’re going to keep highlighting the science that calls for a real focus on protecting sage grouse habitat rather than some of the ideas embedded in the taskforce," he said.
Holst added that changes prioritizing development would lead to further sage grouse population issues.
“They are averse to infrastructure associated with roads [and] energy development," he said. "The higher the density of impact from this kind of infrastructure, the scientists show the populations of sage grouse decline.”
Holst says the NOI will help clarify when the sage grouse management plans will change. It will also allow a 45-day public comment period.