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    National Audubon Society calls the effort ‘window dressing’

    The Bureau of Land Management hopes a federal judge will lift an injunction issued last October and accept six draft environmental impact statements regarding plans regarding the greater sage-grouse habitat, which the Trump administration wants to open to widespread oil and gas leasing and other industrial uses. Photo courtesy of BLM

    The Bureau of Land Management published six draft supplemental environmental impact statements on Friday, Feb. 21, for management of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on public lands in seven western states, highlighting the process undergone in 2019 to develop plans that reflected the needs of western communities and Greater Sage Grouse habitat, according to a statement from the BLM.

    The draft SEISs address issues identified in an order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, last October which placed a preliminary injunction on the implementation of 2019 BLM sage-grouse plans in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada/northeastern California and Oregon.

    Specifically, the federal court ruled that the BLM must halt its plans to expand leasing, drilling, and other industrial activities across millions of acres of habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse.

    The National Audubon Society in a report published late last week called the draft impact statements “window dressing.”

    “This attempt by the administration to get around their loss in court last year is yet another egregious example of their concerted effort to undermine needed protections for sage-grouse, not a genuine commitment to remedy the significant flaws in their last attempt, despite a court giving them clear direction,” said Nada Culver, vice president for public lands and senior policy counsel with the National Audubon Society at Audubon.org.

    They have repeatedly ignored science, and disregarded public input and common sense in their mission to upend a historic and popular multi-state, bi-partisan plan that was achieved more than four years ago.”

    Casey Hammond, the BLM’s assistant secretary for Lands and Minerals Management sees it differently.

    “In March of last year, the Greater Sage-Grouse conservation plans were adopted with strong bipartisan support by the western states, as the plans made important modifications that matched the input provided by the states and western communities,” said Hammond in a statement the BLM sent out. “The draft SEISs illustrate the hard look and robust analysis we performed in this collaborative process to balance our habitat conservation and enhancement goals in response to recent litigation.”

    The federal court, however, determined the BLM “likely violated” the National Environmental Policy Act, in part because it failed to account for how the changes it proposed don’t mesh with accepted science.

    “The irony of this move by the BLM is that they claim to be merely attempting to comply with NEPA, while the White House is gutting it and BLM is following suit,” said Brian Rutledge, director of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative in the Audubon report.

    “BLM’s latest attempt at smoke and mirrors can’t obscure their true intent. They have repeatedly shown their commitment to removing vital protections for the sage-grouse in favor of a single-use of our public lands, as part of their energy dominance agenda. The federal administration continues to look at their own short-term political gains despite what is in the best interest of western communities.”

    The BLM said the judge’s ruling has affected sage-grouse protection plans in a number of western states because of outdated plans.”

    “2019 plans were adopted after months of close coordination and cooperation with state governments in the affected states. The goal was to better align BLM plans for managing habitat with state plans for conserving the species, including state plans for compensatory mitigation, while addressing the circumstances and needs of each individual state,” said the BLM in its statement, noting several western states governors supported the revisions in 2019.

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