A rule rollback will allow more oil and gas drilling to occur on nearly nine million acres of lands crucial for the species’ survival.
BY HANNAH NORDHAUS
PUBLISHED MARCH 21, 2019
Last week, the Trump administration rolled back protections for the embattled greater sage grouse, an iconic bird that has become a symbol of the struggle over how to balance extractive land use and preservation in the American West. The new plans allow more oil and gas leasing and drilling opportunities across nearly nine million acres of critical habitat.
Since the late 1990s, conservationists have pushed to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. An endangered listing, however, would bring severe limitations on grazing, energy development and other activities across 173 million acres of public, state and private land in the west.
To forestall that, the Obama administration in 2015 brokered a compromise plan to limit development and restore disturbed areas within “core” grouse habitat, while allowing more intensive development elsewhere.
The agreement won the support of a variety of industry and environmental stakeholders, but also spurred criticism and lawsuits. Some environmentalists argued that the protections were not strong enough; some industry groups and state and local governments called for the plan’s “draconian” restrictions on development in sage grouse habitat to be loosened.
The Trump administration heeded the latter calls.
The new plan reduces protections on over 51 million acres of “priority” habitat in seven states, making it easier for oil and gas companies to receive waivers, exceptions, and modifications to drilling rules. It eliminates from all but two states the most stringent protections, which tightly circumscribed mineral leasing and drilling in nearly nine million acres of the most sensitive grouse habitat.