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Interior Secretary Orders Review Of Obama-Era Greater Sage Grouse Protections

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review federal conservation efforts of the greater sage grouse Wednesday.

Zinke wanted the federal government to be “a good neighbor” and certify that officials in 11 Western states were fully consulted about the conservation program, according to the Associated Press.

The Republican governors of Idaho, Utah and Nevada had all previously told Zinke they would prefer more flexibility in dealing with besieged species.

“State agencies are really at the forefront of efforts to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations,” Zinke said while talking with reporters, the AP reports. “[This secretarial order] provides more flexibility than the one-size-fits-all solution [of former Obama administration Interior Secretary Sally Jewell].”

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Republican Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming were less supportive of Zinke’s order, calling it “not the right decision” in a May 26 letter, according to the AP.

Zinke’s directive to the BLM was given at the same time he announced a 60-day review of a conservation plan enacted in 2015 by President Barack Obama’s administration. The plan set up land use policies on greater sage grouse habitat over 257,000 square miles stretching from California to North Dakota.

Obama’s $750 million design was seemingly carried out to keep the greater sage grouse from being listed on the Endangered Species List, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to do in September 2015.

“An unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 western states” led to the bird avoiding a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a Department of the Interior press release said in 2015.

Opponents charged that the conservation effort was really a federal land grab that resulted in a similar outcome if the greater sage grouse had been listed.

“The 15 amended federal land use plans the Interior Department is using to substitute for listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act perpetuate a top-down, penalty-based approach that ultimately harms sage grouse conservation efforts,” Brian Seasholes, then-director of the libertarian Reason Foundation’s endangered species project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in 2015.

Seasholes went on to add that sage grouse conservation would be better left to the local municipalities, farmers and ranchers whose land the bird inhabits.

“Tangible work on the ground, coupled with incentives and partnerships, conserves the sage grouse, not regulations,” Seasholes told The Daily Caller News Foundation in 2015.

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