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Why it Matters
Greater sage-grouse are native to sagebrush and juniper grasslands throughout the Western US, and north into Canada. They are the largest North American grouse and are known for their charismatic mating dance. They are also an “umbrella species” – indicating how healthy the habitat is that they share with hundreds of other wildlife species. Habitat fragmentation and degradation have led to plummeting populations across their range. Resource Management Plans were adopted in 2015 to guide the conservation of greater sage-grouse habitat on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. These plans were crafted with cooperation from Western states governors, public land users, and environmental groups as a compromise to prevent listing the birds under the Endangered Species Act.
Under President Trump, BLM sought to dismantle protections for sage-grouse habitat in order to expand oil and gas leasing and production in the west. BLM first announced on Oct. 5, 2017 that it would rescind the 2015 proposal to withdraw roughly 10 million acres from development. The agency then proceeded to streamline oil and gas lease sales in sage-grouse territory (a federal judge later struck down the revised process for failing to go through notice-and-comment); abandon the 2015 management plans by shifting management responsibilities to the states; and open vast swaths of previously protected land to oil and gas leasing.
On Day 1, President Biden took two actions to facilitate the restoration of sage-grouse protections. First, Biden issued an Executive Order requiring the Secretary of the Interior to review BLM’s land use planning efforts for the management of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on public lands in seven western states. Second, the Department of the Interior temporarily suspended all onshore oil and gas leasing for 60 days, including leases that would have been issued in sage-grouse habitat. On Feb. 11, 2021, a federal judge overturned BLM’s rescission of the 2015 plan, finding that BLM’s failure to provide a “reasoned explanation” for the rescission violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
May 7, 2001 In response to a petition, the US Fish & Wildlife Service determines that the Columbia Basin population of greater sage-grouse warrants stand-alone listing under the Endangered Species Act, but that the listing is “precluded by higher priority listing actions.”
March 23, 2010 In response to several petitions, the US Fish & Wildlife Service determines the greater sage-grouse should be listed as endangered but that there are higher priority listings to complete; and that the Bi-State population (a group that lives on the California/Nevada border) is a distinct population whose listing is also warranted but precluded by higher priority listings.
2010 The Natural Resources Conservation Service helps to launch the Sage-grouse Initiative, a voluntary partnership with western landowners to protect greater sage-grouse habitat on private lands.
May 10, 2011 The US Fish & Wildlife Service settles a lawsuit with the Wild Earth Guardians, pledging to propose listing rules or determine whether or not to list 251 species as endangered or threatened (including greater sage-grouse) no later than September 30, 2016.
Dec. 16, 2014 In the FY2015 budget, Congress prohibits the expenditure of funds to publish a proposed rule for the greater sage-grouse or the Columbian Basin population (Pub. L. Number 113–235).
Sep. 22, 2015 BLM and the USFS announce they have finalized 98 land use plans to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat in 10 western states.
Sep. 24, 2015 BLM proposes withdrawal of approximately 10 million acres from development to protect the greater sage-grouse, affecting six states.
Oct. 2, 2015 The US Fish & Wildlife Service determines that listing the greater sage-grouse (or the Columbia Basin population) as threatened or endangered is not warranted under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service note the finding complies with the lawsuit “and is consistent with Congressional direction.”
Feb. 25, 2016 Environmental groups sue BLM and the US Forest Service challenging 15 Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) issued in 2015 for land covering 10 western states. The environmental groups argue that BLM and Forest Service artificially minimized the harms to greater sage-grouse by dividing their analysis into 15 parts without conducting an evaluation across the regions. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho 2016).
Sep. 1, 2016 BLM issues guidance for complying with the greater sage-grouse land use plans.
Dec. 26, 2016 BLM publishes an amended withdrawal proposal, adding acreage in Nevada. Public comment is open through March 28, 2017.
Jan. 5, 2017 The D.C. District Court rules that Idaho’s governor cannot challenge the greater sage-grouse land use plans for Idaho and Montana.
Feb. 6, 2017 BLM announces that a 40% decline in a discrete population of greater sage-grouse in the Sheeprocks area of Utah triggered protective measures under the Obama era conservation plan. Measures include limits on vehicles and development and call for prioritizing habitat restoration.
March 31, 2017 The Federal District Court for the District of Nevada directs BLM and USFS to supplement their findings for the land withdrawals in Nevada.
June 7, 2017 Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Zinke issues Order No. 3353, “Greater Sage-grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States,” initiating a 60-day review of the 2015 land use plans.
Aug. 4, 2017 Secretary Zinke directs DOI to implement the recommendations from the 60-day review. Those include “investigating opportunities to provide additional waivers, modifications, and exceptions through policy or potential plan amendments” to promote “responsible economic growth,” and enabling grazing to take place in protected areas so long as it is not “improper grazing.”
Oct. 5, 2017 BLM announces it will rescind the September 24, 2015 proposal to withdraw roughly 10 million acres of greater sage-grouse habitat from development.
Oct. 11, 2017 BLM publishes a Notice of Intent to Amend Land Use Plans Regarding Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Prepare Associated Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Assessments. The proposed amendments shift management plans to the states, forgoing the habitat plan that was developed between the Western states and BLM. They open a public comment period through November 27, 2017,or 15 days after the final public meeting, whichever came last. This ultimately extends the comment period through December 1, 2017.
Oct. 23, 2017 The Western Values Project sues BLM for failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about the proposed changes to the greater sage-grouse plan.
Oct. 31, 2017 Environmental groups file an administrative appeal with DOI over “BLM’s decision to lease priority sage-grouse habitat in central Utah for oil and gas development, a move which jeopardizes the survival and recovery of the imperiled Sheeprocks population of greater sage-grouse.” The groups notes the February 6, 2017 finding of population decline in the Sheeprocks population mandated greater protections.
Nov. 21, 2017 The USFS publishes notice that it is considering amending some or all of its greater sage-grouse management plan in cooperation with BLM, in response to the March 31, 2017 ruling by the District of Nevada. The agency takes comments on a proposal to amend “some, all, or none” of their management plan in cooperation with BLM through January 5, 2018.
Dec. 27, 2017 BLM issues an Instruction Memorandum on “Implementation of Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan Revisions or Amendments – Oil & Gas Leasing and Development Prioritization Objective.” According to the memo, BLM no longer needs to prioritize leasing in non-sage-grouse habitat before considering leasing in habitat areas.
Jan. 5, 2018 The Forest Service takes comments on a proposal to amend “some, all, or none” of their management plan in cooperation with BLM.
Jan. 2018 BLM issues a “Scoping Report” on potential land use plan changes, but does not account for tens of thousands of comments it received in response to the proposals. BLM has said it will file an addendum to the report that accounts for the missing comments.
Jan. 12, 2018 Citing research from The Nature Conservancy, High Country News reports that leasing in sage-grouse habitat areas “increased dramatically” in Wyoming last year and “plans to offer seven times more acres of sage-grouse habitat in its first-quarter lease sale in Wyoming this year than it did in its first-quarter lease sale last year.”
Jan. 31, 2018 BLM issues a memo streamlining oil and gas lease sales that cuts back public participation requirements and affects nearly 2 million acres of public lands in sage-grouse territory.
April 30, 2018 A coalition of environmental groups sue Interior and BLM for “policies that gut protections for imperiled greater sage-grouse and allow oil and gas leases on nearly 2 million acres of the birds’ prime habitat.” Western Watersheds Project v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-00187 (D. Idaho).
May 4, 2018 BLM publishes draft Environmental Impact Statements for Oregon, Nevada/Northern California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.The comment period for these is open through August 2, 2018, with comments submitted at the BLM website. At the end of the comment period, BLM reports that it received at least 223,000 comments during the 90-day public comment period that ended August 2, 2018.
July 17, 2018 Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper sends a letter to BLM, asking it to remove more than 108,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat from a planned December oil and gas lease sale until the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment is finalized. The full letter is available here.
Aug. 29, 2018 BLM grants final approval to a massive natural gas project in prime greater sage-grouse habitat in southwest Wyoming. The project proposes using directional drilling techniques to drill up to 3,500 natural gas wells over a 10-year period on nearly 141,000 acres of mostly federal lands about 35 miles south of Pinedale, Wyo. The project would become one the nation’s largest natural gas fields, if completed. The plan includes mitigation measures and some restrictions designed to minimize impacts to sage-grouse and their habitat.
Sep. 21, 2018 The US District Court for the District of Idaho blocks BLM from implementing certain provisions of its January memo streamlining oil and gas lease sales on nearly 2 million acres of public lands in sage-grouse territory until the court can rule on its legality. The court’s preliminary injunction applies only to lease sales that intersect with sage-grouse planning areas or habitat management areas. Western Watersheds Project v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-00187 (D. Idaho).
Oct. 5, 2018 The Forest Service releases proposed Land Management Plan amendments along with a draft Environmental Impact Statement for habitat in Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. The proposed amendments to the Land Management Plan include changes to current protections for sage-grouse, including: changing requirements for authorization potentially disruptive projects (from the need to show a “conservation gain” to just showing “no net habitat loss”); waiving a requirement for unanimous FWS expert agreement before allowing oil and gas projects to expand; and relaxing restrictions on “tall structures” and “permanent livestock facilities” near habitat management areas. The 90-day comment period for the proposed Land Management Plan amendments and draft EIS is open until Jan. 3, 2018.
Oct. 19, 2018 BLM announces that it is removing 148,797 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat in Colorado from an oil and gas lease sale planned for December 2018. Although BLM did not address this point in its announcement, the removal of those acres is in accordance with the September 21, 2018 injunction from US District Court for the District of Idaho that halted lease sales that could interfere with sage-grouse habitat.
Oct. 23, 2018 BLM announces that it is removing 54,200 acres of sage-grouse habitat from a planned December 2018 oil and gas lease sale in Montana. In its announcement, BLM cites the US District Court for the District of Idaho’s September 21 2018 injunction blocking BLM from making lease sales of land that included sage-grouse habitat.
Nov. 2, 2018 BLM announces that it is removing 58 parcels of land, totaling 74,516 acres, from a planned Colorado oil and gas lease sale scheduled for December 13, 2018. Included in this removal were five parcels (13,000 acres) in Colorado’s North Fork Valley. BLM was responding to pressure from conservation groups in Colorado, as well as Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Michael Bennet, who cited the need to complete a NEPA review of the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan before proceeding with lease sales in the North Fork Valley.
Nov. 15, 2018 BLM announces that it plans to offer more than 170,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat in Utah in an oil and gas lease sale on March 26, 2019, acreage that it had previously pulled from its December 2018 lease sale. BLM will include a 30-day public comment and protest period, instead of a shortened public involvement timeline of only 10 days that a federal judge blocked in September. The March 26 sale will include 156 parcels covering 217,519 acres in northern and eastern Utah.
Dec. 6, 2018 BLM releases final drafts of proposed revisions to greater sage-grouse conservation plans that recommend removing hundreds of thousands of acres of federally protected habitat in Utah, and easing restrictions on energy development and other activities in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Jan. 10, 2019 BLM extends the deadlines to January 15 for comments and protests to revisions to Obama-era greater sage-grouse conservation plans covering parts of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada/Northern California, Oregon, and Utah. Conservation groups had raised awareness about how the government shutdown had interfered with their ability to respond to the revisions. BLM also extends the deadline on the Wyoming plan to January 28 due to the release of “incorrect versions of appendices” to the plan in December.
Feb. 26, 2019 The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith, says that he intends to keep “anti-environmental riders” out of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Noting that protections for sage-grouse and other species have been points of controversy in past NDAA agreements, Smith says: “We should not use the defense bill as an excuse to degrade the environment.”
March 15, 2019 BLM finalizes revisions to greater sage-grouse Resource Management Plans that allow oil and gas drilling, mining, and other development near sensitive habitat across seven Western states. The plan amendments remove almost all 10 million acres of sagebrush focal areas, identified in the Obama-era plans as habitat critical to the bird’s survival, leaving only 1.8 million acres of these areas in Oregon and Montana. The amendments also remove the requirement for compensatory mitigation for impacts to grouse habitat. Instead, BLM “will consider compensatory mitigation only when offered voluntarily by a project proponent,” or required by a law other than the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The plan amendments are available for each state and are linked here: Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada/Northeastern California. For more information on the revisions to the plans, see our post on Greater Sage-Grouse Amended Resource Management Plans here.
April 4, 2019 BLM is considering whether to include 75 parcels of greater sage-grouse habitat in northwest Colorado in a oil and gas lease sale in September 2019. The parcels have been subject to some push-and-pull over the last year when BLM pulled them from a lease sale in response to a September 2018 injunction and then included them in the December 2018 lease sale only to pull them again in October 2018 when then-Governor Hickenlooper complained about potential harm to the bird.
May 24, 2019 Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sends a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt alleging that the revised sage grouse plans are invalid because BLM did not have a Senate-confirmed Director to decide administrative protests to the revisions before they were adopted.
June 17, 2019 The Western Values Project files a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM for failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests made by the group last year seeking “materials related to the sage grouse and the BLM’s process for amending its sage grouse plans.” Western Values Project v. US Dept. of Interior, No. 1:19-cv-01755 (D.D.C.).
July 25, 2019 A report finds that a total of 67% of federal lands leased for oil and gas development from February 1, 2017 to March 15, 2019 have been in designated sage-grouse habitat. This represents an increase from 54% of oil and gas leases in grouse habitat issued during the final 15 months of the Obama administration (October 1, 2015 – January 31, 2017). The rate of leasing in priority habitat also increased under the Trump administration to nearly 10 times greater than the final months of the Obama administration. The report was prepared for the Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, and the National Wildlife Federation.
Aug. 2, 2019 The Forest Service publishes its proposed amendments to 19 Land Management Plans in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming for managing greater sage-grouse habitat and the final Environmental Impact Statement for those amendments. There are a number of changes from the 2015 plans that covered 5.2 million acres of federal lands in the five states, including:
- Removal of more than 865,000 acres of “sagebrush focal areas” identified in the 2015 plans as habitat critical to the bird’s survival.
- Reduction of 300,000 acres of Forest Service lands designated as priority habitat management areas (a reduction from 2.6 to 2.3 million acres). Most of the reductions are in priority management areas in Nevada and Wyoming.
- Alteration of requirements that prevented projects in greater sage-grouse habitat over a 3% disturbance cap. The old proposal would reject a project unless it demonstrated “a new conservation gain” for the bird. Instead, proposals will be accepted if the change leads to “no net habitat loss.”
- Elimination of a mandate that there be “unanimous concurrence from a team of agency greater sage-grouse experts” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, and the appropriate state wildlife agency, before waivers or modifications of “no surface occupancy” requirements are granted for oil and gas projects in grouse habitat.
While the federal government argues that these changes are meant to emphasize coordination with state conservation agencies, environmental groups have criticized the effort as an attempt to promote energy development to the detriment of the iconic greater sage-grouse. This proposal is open for comment until October 1, 2019 and comments may be submitted here.
Sep. 3, 2019 The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks releases a Greater Sage-grouse Population Report that shows an estimated 40% decline in the bird’s population in the state over the past three years. Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming also saw drops in sage-grouse populations in 2019.
Oct. 2, 2019 Judge Winmill denies the motion to dismiss filed by the federal government, allowing the 2016 case challenging 15 Environmental Impact Statements for land in 10 western states to go forward. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho).
Oct. 16, 2019 Judge Winmill grants a preliminary injunction stopping BLM from implementing its March 2019 amendments to greater sage-grouse plans in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California, and Oregon. The injunction allows oil and gas development to continue on the 51 million acres of federal land at issue, but those activities will have to comply with the Obama administration’s 2015 sage grouse plans. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho). To learn more about this decision and its implications, check out our post on Defending Science and Collaborative Conservation here.
Dec. 16, 2019 The Trump administration appeals Judge Winmill’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction, stopping implementation of BLM’s amended greater sage-grouse plans, to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Western Watersheds Project v. Bernhardt, No. 19-36073 (9th Cir.).
Feb. 19, 2020 BLM releases six draft supplemental environmental impact statements for greater sage-grouse plans across the West to address concerns raised in the litigation Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho). The draft supplemental documents for Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada/northeastern California and Oregon are available for review and open for comment until May 21, 2020.
Feb. 27, 2020 Chief US Magistrate Judge Bush rules that BLM’s January 2018 memo streamlining oil and gas lease sales was required to go through notice-and-comment rulemaking and failed to do so. BLM can no longer use the streamlined approach and must use Obama-era review processes until it properly adopts a new rule. The decision also invalidates BLM lease sales that relied on the policy in the memo, including June and September 2018 sales in Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. BLM could be required to return over $125 million to the companies who leased land in those sales, including revenues from these lease sales already disbursed to the states. Western Watersheds Project v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-00187 (D. Idaho).
March 17, 2020 The Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity file a motion for reconsideration of the Feb. 27, 2020 ruling, asking the court to expand its decision and bar use of the streamlining memo for oil and gas leases outside of sage-grouse territory. Western Watersheds Project v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-00187 (D. Idaho).
March 27, 2020 BLM drops its Ninth Circuit appeal of the preliminary injunction granted on Oct. 16, 2019 that stops implementation of BLM’s amended greater sage-grouse plans.
March 31, 2020 The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes withdrawal of a 2013 rule that proposed designating the population of greater sage-grouse in California and Nevada as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS no longer believes the threats to the bird in that area are significant.
April 16, 2020 The Western Watersheds Project files a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to vacate BLM’s decision to cancel its proposed withdrawal of 10 million acres of sage-grouse habitat from new hardrock mining claims in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho).
May 1, 2020 BLM issues a new “categorical exclusion” under the National Environmental Policy Act that allows BLM to carry out certain activities intended to protect and improve sage grouse habitat, such as removing juniper and pinyon pine trees, without performing environmental reviews.
May 22, 2020 Chief Judge Morris rules that BLM’s 2018 instruction memorandum and 440 oil and gas leases covering 336,000 acres in Montana and Wyoming violated the 2015 sage grouse plans and vacates those leases. Specifically, the 2015 plans required BLM to prioritize leasing and encourage new development outside of sage grouse habitat. The court found that BLM’s 2018 memo minimized those requirements and allowed leases that violated the 2015 plans and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Montana Wildlife Fed’n v. Bernhardt, No. 4:18-cv-00069 (D. Montana).
May 29, 2020 BLM files a cross motion for partial summary judgment asking court to uphold BLM’s decision to cancel the proposed land withdrawal and allow new mining claims in sage-grouse habitat. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho).
May 29, 2020 Chesapeake Exploration LLC, an oil and gas drilling company, requests to intervene in Western Watersheds Project v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-00187 (D. Idaho) with a plan to appeal the Feb. 27, 2020 decision. The company’s request is granted and it files its appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 1, 2020. Western Watersheds Project v. Bernhardt, No. 20-35483 (9th Cir.).
July 13, 2020 BLM appeals the decision vacating 440 oil and gas leases to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Montana Wildlife Fed’n v. Bernhardt, No. 20-35614 (9th Cir.).
Aug. 7, 2020 BLM issues a record of decision approving the Moneta Divide natural gas and oil development project in west-central Wyoming. The decision authorizes 4,250 wells to be drilled on nearly 330,00 acres of mostly federal land, which include greater sage-grouse habitat. BLM notes that it is “relying on the 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse RODs for implementation of Greater Sage-Grouse management actions” since “BLM is currently enjoined from implementing the decisions in the 2019 Greater Sage-Grouse RODs” due to the ongoing litigation. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho).
Aug. 19, 2020 Six environmental groups file a lawsuit challenging BLM’s new management plan for Colorado’s Western Slope that covers oil, gas and mining activities for about 1 million acres. The groups allege that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider reasonable alternatives like a no-leasing outlook for the 20-year plan and take a “hard look” at climate change impacts and impacts to the Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat. The groups also file a notice of intent to sue BLM for Endangered Species Act violations based on the plan’s treatment of the Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat. Citizens for a Healthy Community v. BLM, No. 1:20-cv-2484 (D. Colo.).
Aug. 25, 2020 Chief Judge Morris stays his decision from May 2020 to vacate 440 oil and gas leases in Montana and Wyoming, leaving them in limbo pending a ruling from the Ninth Circuit. Montana Wildlife Fed’n v. Bernhardt, No. 4:18-cv-00069 (D. Montana).
Sep. 21, 2020 The Department of the Interior and Western Values Project settle their lawsuit over DOI’s failure to respond to requests for information relating to BLM’s process for amending its sage-grouse plans. Western Values Project v. US Dept. of Interior, No. 1:19-cv-01755 (D.D.C.).
Oct. 16, 2020 BLM, Western Energy Alliance, and the State of Wyoming appeal Chief Judge Morris’ decision to vacate oil and gas leases in Montana and Wyoming. The three appeals are consolidated. Montana Wildlife Fed’n v. Bernhardt, No. 20-35614 (9th Cir.).
Oct. 16, 2020 Chief Judge Morris invalidates three BLM resource management plans that would threaten sage-grouse habitat in Montana, because former Acting Director William Pendley was not authorized to approve the plans. Bullock v. BLM, No. 4:20-cv-00062 (D. Mont.).
Oct. 27, 2020 Environmental groups amend their complaint challenging a BLM resource management plan that would threaten sage-grouse habitat in Colorado because former Acting Director William Pendley was not authorized to approve the plan. Citizens for a Healthy Community v. BLM, No. 1:20-cv-02484 (D. Colo).
Nov. 7, 2020 The Senate Appropriations Committee releases the Interior-Environment spending bill with a sage-grouse rider stipulating that funds may not be used to write or issue a proposed rule for the greater sage-grouse. House Democrats signed a letter on Oct. 19, 2020, urging House leaders to block the inclusion of the rider in the final spending package.
Nov. 13, 2020 BLM proposes a lease sale in Wyoming for March 2021 that would include 244,000 acres of sage-grouse habitat. The draft Environmental Assessment is online and open for public comment through Dec. 13, 2020. Comments may be submitted here.
Nov. 19, 2020 BLM publishes six final supplemental environmental impact statements for greater sage-grouse habitat management on public lands in seven states, addressing issues identified in the March 2019 preliminary injunction. Western Watersheds Project v. Schneider, No. 1:16-CV-83-BLW (D. Idaho).
Nov. 20, 2020 BLM files a motion for partial summary judgment, requesting Wyoming and Nevada lease sales be upheld. BLM claims these leasing decisions complied with FLPMA obligations to prioritize areas outside of sage-grouse habitat and NEPA requirements to conduct an appropriate analysis of impacts to sage-grouse. Montana Wildlife Fed’n v. Bernhardt, No. 4:18-cv-00069 (D. Mont.).
Dec. 7, 2020 The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project file a lawsuit against BLM and DOI, alleging that the agencies are improperly relying on outdated conservation measures from the Gunnison Basin Candidate Conservation Agreement and related Biological Opinion. The Gunnison sage-grouse is a smaller cousin of the greater sage-grouse and its population in Colorado’s Gunnison Basin has decreased over 40% since 2013.
Jan. 14, 2021 BLM issues records of decision (RODs) stating that 2019 amendments to sage grouse protections plans should be implemented without changes in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. These RODs are still subject to Judge Winmill’s preliminary injunction, and thus will not have an immediate legal effect.
Early Biden Actions
Jan. 20, 2021 President Biden issues an Executive Order requiring the Secretary of the Interior to review the six records of decision for management of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on public lands, according to a White House fact sheet.
Jan. 20, 2021 The Department of the Interior temporarily suspends all onshore oil and gas leasing, with limited exceptions, for 60 days.
Feb. 11, 2021 A federal judge overturns BLM’s decision to strip protections from 10 million acres of sage-grouse habitat, finding that BLM failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for canceling the 2015 plan and “entirely failed” to consider the benefits of the withdrawal. Western Watersheds Project, et al., v. Bernhardt, No. 1:16-cv-00083 (D. Idaho).
March 17, 2021 The US Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over the last two decades, millions of acres of priority greater sage-grouse habitat have been destroyed by human activity and natural threats. 20% of that loss is due to wildfires.
May 10, 2021 Interior files a status report with the District Court for the District of Idaho in which the agency states that it “intends to initiate a new planning process soon” regarding greater sage grouse conservation. That planning process will “likely address inclusion of any new information,” including the USGS report released on March 17. Western Watersheds Project v. Dep’t of the Interior, No. 1:16-cv-00083 (D. Idaho).
May 28, 2021 President Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request proposes removing language prohibiting the Department of the Interior from using federal money to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. That language has appeared in spending bills since at least 2014.