Judge Strikes Down Trump’s Lift of Mining Ban in Threatened Bird Habitats

Greater Sage Grouse Photo: Bob Wick, BLM

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Last week, a federal judge struck down a Trump administration action that abrogated an agreement under which no mining would occur in the habitat of the threatened greater sage grouse. While the judge’s decision doesn’t reinstate the Obama-era ban, the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management must reevaluate the efficacy of mining in the region. The move comes after the Trump administration rolled back protections for several endangered species, including the gray wolf, in its last days.  The National Audubon Society predicts that a global average increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would result in the greater sage grouse losing about 60% of its habitat. In addition to climate change, the species is also greatly threatened by industrial development.

Why This Matters: In the midst of a global biodiversity crisis, the Audubon society reports that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change. Birds are a very literal canary-in-the-coalmine said Brooke Bateman, Ph.D., the senior climate scientist for the National Audubon Society. “Birds are important indicator species because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too.”  Once millions strong, the greater sage grouse population is now under 500,000, and their habitat is shrinking every year.  This is why the proposal that President Biden supports to protect 30% of our land by 2030 is so important.

Mine Judgement

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill struck down the Trump administration’s decision to allow mining on 10 million acres of land across 6 western states, citing that the cancellation of the ban was arbitrary and failed to properly consider the impact on local wildlife. Advocates hope that the Biden administration will reinstate the original ban on mining in the region. Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians expressed optimism, “we are hopeful that the new Biden-Harris administration will take the biodiversity crisis seriously and see this decision as a step toward getting greater sage grouse the protection they need in order to thrive.”

Since the cancellation of the ban in 2017, no mining projects have begun in the region, but mining companies are displeased with the reversal all the same. National Mining Association spokesperson Conor Bernstein said that the original ban was unreasonable. “We still firmly believe that the science and the evidence in front of the agencies led them to the right conclusion,” he said of the Trump decision. If that’s true, then Biden’s team, led by some of the best and brightest when it comes to climate, should come up with the same decision, but something tells us that they’ll side with the courts on this one.

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