Greater Sage Grouse populations have suffered catastrophic declines in recent years.
It easily qualifies for classification as an endangered species. But in 2015, after years of painful negotiation and compromise, the stakeholders in the struggle to protect the iconic symbol of the Sagebrush Sea reached an agreement that avoided the painful consequences of classification as an endangered species and yet still gave the Sage Grouse protection. The Greater Sage Grouse Protection Plan “significantly reduced threats to the Greater Sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat,” enabling the organization to conclude that the bird did not warrant listing, FWS stated in their release announcing the decision.
That was then; this is now: The Trump Department of the Interior has backed out of the deal. Basically, plans that took years of work and were backed by good science and strong public support were unilaterally ditched for a new set of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans that much more heavily favor oil and gas development.
Since disgraced former Secretary Ryan Zinke first decided to revisit the BLM plans, more than forty thousand Americans submitted comments to Interior opposing modifications of the agreement. They did so even though the BLM removed a page from its website called “Top 5 Things You Should Know About Greater Sage-Grouse,” according to the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a group that tracks .gov websites, and which initially formed out of fears that the Trump administration would remove scientific information from government webpages. The BLM also removed web pages describing what states are doing to protect the sage grouse.
In a poll conducted earlier this year by Colorado College, nearly two-thirds of voters from Western states expressed opposition to changing the sage-grouse conservation plans.
In June 2018, more than twenty scientists sent a letter to Secretary Zinke outlining concerns with the proposed changes made final today. The scientists concluded, “failure to take into account large-scale dynamics when managing sage-grouse will likely lead to an overall loss of habitat quantity and quality resulting in population declines.”
The Department of the Interior’s unilateral decision to sacrifice big swathes of ideal Sage Grouse habitat to coal mining and, in particular, oil and gas production. In effect, the Trump BLM has determined that it’s okay to place the Greater Sage Grouse to much greater risk of extinction in order to allow more oil and gas production. Never mind that most of the oil and gas gets sold overseas. Never mind that in a time of CO2-driven climate change, the last thing we need is to produce more oil and gas. Never mind that the move is opposed by the public, even the public in the conservative West. The oil and gas industry backed Trump and the Republican Party, and they are getting the payback.
Specie over species.
There will be litigation, and likely successful litigation. But second worst part of all this – after jeopardizing yet another species – is that conservation organization are going to be even less willing to try to work cooperatively with the Federal government. Because you can’t trust the Federal government to abide by its agreements. Especially where some special interest with a lot of money has bought our politicians.