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Sage Grouse Plan Halted as ‘More Hardships’ for Bird Cited (1)

Oct. 16, 2019, 10:11 PMUpdated: Oct. 17, 2019, 12:01 AM

A federal court won’t allow the Trump administration to enforce its plans for managing sage grouse in Western states while litigation is still pending.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho issued a preliminary injunction Oct. 16 that temporarily blocks the Bureau of Land Management from implementing its 2019 plans in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and part of California.

More protective Obama-era plans for managing the iconic birds will remain in place in the meantime.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the Trump administration’s amendments—which make it easier for BLM to approve oil and gas development, grazing permits, and other activities in sage grouse territory—appeared to be “contrary to the science” contained in reports from experts who advised BLM and the U.S. Forest Service on sage grouse policy.

BLM, part of the Interior Department, can still approve new permits while the preliminary injunction is in place, but it must follow restrictions laid out in the Obama administration’s 2015 plans.

“These circumstances tip the balance of hardships toward plaintiffs—the sage grouse will suffer more hardships from the 2019 Plan Amendments than the defendants will suffer from reverting to the provisions of the 2015 Plans,” Winmill wrote.

‘Throws a Wrench’

Conservation groups celebrated the ruling.

“This ruling throws a wrench into the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken protections for the greater sage-grouse, a species that is declining West-wide,” Western Watersheds Project executive director Erik Molvar said in a statement.

The group is one of several that sued over the Trump administration’s sage grouse plans.

“Western states involved in the 2019 greater sage-grouse conservation plans overwhelmingly supported the plans on a bipartisan basis, which we firmly believe to be in the best interest of the American people,” Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said in an email.

“The previous plans from 2015 ignored the individual needs of States, and the common sense amendments made by the Department are legally sound and struck the appropriate balance in effectively managing these important public lands for multiple use,” he said.

The agency has not yet said whether it will attempt to appeal the judge’s order.

The case is W. Watersheds Project v. Schneider, D. Idaho, No. 1:16-cv-00083, injunction granted 10/16/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com