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Interior announces changes to sage grouse bird protections

By
Clyde Hughes
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (R), walks with President Donald Trump (C), Vice President Mike Pence (L) at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Jan. 21. Bernhardt announced protection changes Friday for the sage grouse bird. Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (R), walks with President Donald Trump (C), Vice President Mike Pence (L) at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Jan. 21. Bernhardt announced protection changes Friday for the sage grouse bird. Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

March 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that changes have been made to the protection of sage grouse birds that could open land in seven Western states to oil and drilling.

Former interior secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order two years ago asking state government their cooperation in protecting the bird but allowing "local economic opportunities."

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The change appears to be another move away from the Obama administration's efforts in 2015 that protected the bird's habitat.

"Months of close coordination and cooperation with state governments in Wyoming, Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Colorado has gone into the development of today's decision," acting interior secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement Friday.

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"The plans adopted today show that listening to and working with our neighbors at the state and local levels of government is the key to long-term conservation and to ensuring the viability of local communities across the West," he continued.

Raul Grijalva, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the change was a bow to the oil industry at the expense of the environment.

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"As part of its ongoing campaign to hand over public lands to fossil fuel companies, this administration is rolling back sage grouse protections that many stakeholders created together through a long and deliberative process," Grijalva said in a statement. "It seems clear that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt's clients stand to gain more than anyone else from this revision."

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But Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said the bill provides enough protection for the sage grouse.

"Collaboration is hard work, and I appreciate the efforts by our stakeholders, state agencies and the Department of Interior to craft an agreement to protect the sage grouse," Brown said.

"Balancing sage grouse habitat protection and economic development requires mitigation of negative impacts. This agreement is a critical step that marks a shift away from planning toward active conservation and landscape management to protect this iconic species. Oregon's bounty is beautiful and worth continuing to protect and fight for," she continued.

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