The Department of the Interior released a revised version of a 2015 conservation plan Monday, rolling back federal land use regulations on more than 100,000 square miles of western land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration implemented the original plan to reverse declining sage grouse numbers and keep the bird from being listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). An endangered listing would have been devastating to state and local economies that thrive on industries such as ranching and oil and gas drilling, The Washington Post reports.
The revised plan yields more responsibility for conservation to state and private initiatives, such as those set up by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a partnership between state government and private interests dedicated to preserving threatened species and habitats through partnerships rather than regulation.
“Removing administrative barriers to conservation is critical to protecting the greater sage grouse without hindering responsible energy development and local economic opportunities,” American Petroleum Institute Upstream director Erik Milito said in a statement. “The record shows that energy development and sage grouse populations can successfully coexist.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered the revision June 7. Sage grouse numbers have improved recently, a good sign for the bird after a steady decline from 1965 to 2015, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reports.
While the Obama administration intended the plan to be a compromise between development and conservation, many ranchers and other rural interests were uneasy with the conservation, fearing that stricter regulation or an endangered sage grouse listing under the ESA would come later, according to WaPo.
However, conservationists say the revised approach to sage grouse conservation only endangers the bird further.
“Interior’s proposed changes could irreparably damage sage-grouse habitat, jeopardizing an unprecedented, collaborative effort to conserve this iconic species,” Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement.