Written by Nicholas K. Geranios The Associated Press
Spokane, Wash. – On Thursday, the Trump administration announced plans to ease protection from a wise challenge in the West, prompting strong criticism from critics who say the move paves the way for large-scale mining and exploration and ignores the federal court ruling.
U.S. officials plan to publish so-called supplemental environmental impact data on Friday to manage the habitats of the largest sage birds on public lands in seven states. Publication in the Federal Register is part of a process that could allow plans to go into effect shortly before Trump leaves office.
Plans drawn up by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management facilitate rules on mining, digging and grazing across millions of acres that the agency says reflect the needs of western societies and steppe habitats.
Casey Hammond, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Land and Minerals Administration, said the plans “align better with BLM’s management of wise grouse habitats while addressing the conditions and needs of each state individually.”
The biggest challenge that lives on land is at the heart of the bitter struggle between the administration and conservationists, which includes the vast amount of public land in the West that must be opened up for development.
Sage grouse has been in decline for decades due to habitat loss and other factors. The fauna stretches across about 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) in parts of 11 U.S. states in the western United States and two Canadian provinces. Their numbers decreased due to the development of energy, disease, and other factors.
The birds are known for elaborate mating rituals where males fan their tails and blow yellow airbags into their chests as they sway around the breeding grounds. It is not considered an endangered or protected species.
The six plans cover Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada / Northeast California and Oregon. In 2019, a federal judge rejected a previous Trump administration plan that eases prudent appeal protection.
In this matter, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lyn Wintell in Boise temporarily prevented Presdent Trump’s administration from relaxing the rules regarding mining, digging and grazing, saying that such activities left unattended would likely harm the appeal.
Supplementary environmental impact data published on Friday aims to address the issues identified in this order.
But every plan reviewed by the Associated Press appears to have nearly identical wording and does not appear to make any changes to the prudent federal government plan that Winmill rejected.
Each state has its own director of land administration to sign the document.
“I don’t think this will fly in court,” said Eric Mulvar of the Western Waters Project. “I think this is an example of the Trump administration ignoring the judiciary and trying to demolish it and make its way even though the judge has already said that this path is illegal.”
Opponents said Thursday’s action is intended to make it difficult for the incoming Biden administration to cancel the plans.
“The Biden administration will have to start over, develop new plans with notice and comment, and provide a clear justification for why plans change again,” said Mary Green, an attorney at the National Wildlife Federation.
In a related case, a Montana federal judge in May slapped the administration’s efforts, saying officials had failed to protect the habitat of wise grouse when they issued energy leases of hundreds of square miles. US District Court Judge Brian Morris said the Department of the Interior had not done enough to encourage development outside of prudently protested areas.
Under former President Barack Obama, the Home Office has delayed rental sales for millions of acres of public land largely due to concerns that intense development could harm grouse. In 2015, it adopted a set of wide-ranging plans aimed at protecting the best habitat of grouse and keeping birds off the endangered and endangered species list.
After Trump took office in 2017, the agency revised those plans to ease restrictions on development, meaning officials no longer have to prioritize development outside of the grouse.
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