Sage Grouse Habitat To Be Opened For Drilling

Photo: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management, via The New York Times

Late last week, the Trump Administration announced its decision to open up for oil and gas drilling nine millions of acres of critical habitat for the Sage Grouse, a bird whose endangered status hinged on whether the habitat would be saved.  According to The New York Times, the plan to eliminate protections on the Sage Grouse habitat was engineered by the Acting Secretary of Interior, David Berhnardt, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist, who has now been nominated to fill the top job permanently.

The Administration has a track record of leasing off federal land quickly.  So far, the Department of Interior has opened for leasing nearly 16.8 million acres of federal land, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.  This represents an area larger than the states of Maryland and New Jersey combined — a swath of land larger than the combined size of Maryland and New Jersey.  Despite the low interest in many of these lease areas, the Interior Department did lease out for development more than 2.3 million acres and they plan to auction off another 1.3 million acres this spring.  Environmental groups were “aflutter over the Trump administration’s plan,” according to The Washington Post, tweeting up a storm using the hashtag #SaveGrouse in opposition to the decision. 

Why This Matters:  As Juliet Elperin of The Post said, in a tweet, the “sage grouse lives nowhere else besides America, and it could disappear altogether.  As the Trump Administration makes it easier to drill in the bird’s habitat, can environmentalists save it?”  The battle will now surely shift to the courts as these groups will have to sue to force the Trump Administration to list the sage grouse as endangered, but even then the leasing might already have taken place — it may be too late.  The Obama Administration’s “compromise” was controversial at the time, and now puts the bird’s existence in jeopardy — hindsight is, of course, 20/20.

To Go Deeper: This National Geographic story on the Sage Grouse is worthy of your time.  And to see the bird’s funky mating dance, watch the video below.

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