What’s at Stake
Sage-grouse populations, which once numbered in the millions, have been decimated by oil and gas development and other disturbances.
Conservationists filed suit in U.S. District Court in Montana against the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to demand that the administration uphold the deal made to save the greater sage-grouse and its habitat in 10 Western states. Under this administration, leasing and proposed leasing in sage-grouse habitat has increased, threatening the conservation of the species.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Montana Wildlife Federation, the Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, and National Wildlife Federation. The organizations say the federal government has violated two laws, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, by disregarding the 2015 greater sage-grouse conservation plans and offering oil and gas leases on important sage-grouse habitat on public lands in Montana, Nevada and Wyoming in conflict with the safeguards detailed in the plans. In December alone, nearly 90 percent of the more than 200 parcels offered for oil and gas leases in Montana and 93 percent of the 45 parcels in Wyoming were in sage-grouse habitat.
In addition to the leases challenged in this sale, more oil and gas leasing is proposed in sage-grouse habitat in Colorado and across the West. Based on a preliminary list, virtually all of a 700,000 acre lease sale scheduled for December in Wyoming is in sage grouse habitat.
The protection of sage-grouse habitat is the result of one of the largest conservation efforts in U.S. history, which made a listing under the Endangered Species Act unnecessary for the greater sage-grouse by setting aside important habitat on public lands to enable the species to survive.
The planning effort, which took more than four years, involved intensive efforts by the U.S. Forest Service, Western governors, sportsmen, public lands users, and representatives of the oil and gas and ranching industries. Since taking office in 2017, however, the Trump administration has ignored those protections while offering hundreds of new leases in important sage-grouse habitat. Sage-grouse populations, which once numbered in the millions, have been decimated by oil and gas development and other disturbances. The 2015 BLM protections are central to preserving the species, because 45 percent of the grouse’s current habitat lies on lands managed by the BLM.
Drew Caputo, VP of Litigation for Lands, Wildlife, Oceans: “I get that they’re being pressured politically. I get that there are thin margins. But the climate crisis doesn’t care about any of that stuff.”