(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — Unbeknownst to many, the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) has been smack-dab in the middle of the costliest endangered species fight in history — a battle spanning nearly two decades – and one that included several attacks by the Trump Administration and fellow Republicans – this, after the Obama Administration chose to deny the bird protection under the Endangered Species Act in a controversial 2015 decision. On Feb. 11, 2021, the bird known for its mating ritual dances found itself, once again, at the center of a court battle for its survival, but this time, conservation groups won the day, giving hope to wildlife advocates trying to save the species from blinking into extinction.
Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the United States District Court for the District of Idaho overturned the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to strip protections for 10 million acres of sage grouse habitat to make way for mining activities. Winmill wrote in his decision that the BLM failed to provide a “reasoned explanation,” violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), for its cancelation of protections for the high-priority sagebrush sea habitats. The court’s ruling brings this bird one step closer to receiving the kind of protections conservationists say it needs.
“We’re grateful our legal system once again protected the vanishing greater sage grouse from the reckless, lawbreaking Trump Administration,” said Michael Saul, Senior Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (the Center), in a press release. “Now the new Interior secretary can establish appropriate habitat protections based on science, not favoritism to the mining industry.”
The latest ruling avoids reinstating a 2015 mining ban and does provide the BLM with an opportunity to consider the appropriate protections for critical sage grouse habitats using the latest science available.
“This decision is a stinging rebuke of the Trump Administration’s total disregard for fact and science,” said Sarah Stellberg, an attorney with Advocates for the West, which is representing the other plaintiffs in the case. “It’s also a crucial win for sage grouse, who now more than ever need the protections this mining ban would provide.” Advocates for the West represented Western Watersheds Project (WWP), the Center, WildEarth Guardians and Prairie Hills Audubon Society in the case.
This isn’t the first time the sage grouse has been granted a victory in the legal system though. On Oct. 16, 2019, a federal court said the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) artificially minimized the dangers faced by the imperiled bird. It struck down a Trump Administration ruling that attempted to loosen restrictions for industry across the sagebrush steppe.
“The Trump Administration has been trying to gut [sage grouse] protections. Those efforts have been illegal. We’ve been dragging them into court; we’ve been kicking their butt in court, and we’ve been stripping their ability to gut those regulations so far,” Erik Molvar, Executive Director with WWP, told EnviroNews in an on-camera interview last November.
In January of 2018, the BLM canceled an oil and gas development lease auction near eastern Idaho’s Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge after an outcry from environmentalists. The refuge is an important habitat for the sage grouse, and conservationists argued the BLM did not take into account the impact of the proposed development activities.
The subject of an extensive EnviroNews documentary, the greater sage grouse is known as an umbrella species. There are between 100,000 and 500,000 greater sage grouse in the United States, down from 16 million. These ground nesters are sensitive to environmental disturbances and face threats from development, climate change, and invasive species.
Despite the most expansive land-use and wildlife management plans in U.S. history, adopted by the largest coalition of multi-sector parties in the history of wildlife protection, in 2015, according to wildlife biologists, this unique bird continues to spiral toward extinction. By federally protecting the bird and its habitat under the Endangered Species Act, conservationists say that more than 300 species would also be shielded from the possibility of going extinct.
OTHER GREAT SAGE GROUSE REPORTS BY ENVIRONEWS