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BLM Pushes Sage Grouse Protection By Restricting Mining on 10 Million Acres in 6 States

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and President Barack Obama. (AP)

January 04, 2017

As the Obama Administration comes to a close, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pushing ahead with its plan to restrict more federal land from future mining operations by putting 10 million acres in six states off limits.

“As part of its continuing efforts to conserve habitat vital to healthy populations of the Greater Sage-Grouse in the West, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced the draft proposal to withdraw a subset of lands that are sage-grouse strongholds from future mining claims,” read a press release posted on the BLM website on Thursday.

The announcement about the restrictions on land in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, which was published in the Federal Register on Friday, said a 90-day public comment period will take place until March 30, 2017 and that the agency will host eight public meetings in the West next month.

“We appreciate the input we’ve received from states, tribes, and other important stakeholders to help develop this draft analysis of the proposed mineral withdrawal,” Kristin Bail, BLM assistant director for resources and planning, said in the press release announcement.

“We look forward to working closely with the public in the coming months as we finalize a proposal to protect important Greater Sage-Grouse habitat from potential future disturbance resulting from mining claims,” said Bail.

The agency said the move is part of its effort to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse even as it decided not to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

But Luke Popovich, vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association, said the move by the agency is not only not necessary, but also is destructive to the mining industry and to the larger national economy.

“This massive land withdrawal, the largest in history, is a spiteful and wholly unnecessary measure for protecting wildlife habitat that isn’t jeopardized by mining and appears instead to be a parting gift to activists who care nothing for the economic consequences to either the impacted states or the economy,” Popovich told CNSNews.com.

Popovich said the sage-grouse population is not declining and that ranching and wildfires pose a greater threat than mining to the birds. Popovich also said the states being targeted and private industry, including mining, have put plans in place to protect the sage-grouse habitat.

In 2015 Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the sage-grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, which would have affected the birds’ habitats in 11 states.

“Today I’m proud to mark a milestone for conservation in America,” Jewell said in a video posted on the DOI’s Twitter account. “Because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 western states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater Sage-Grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

“An unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort across the western United States has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat and enabled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that the charismatic rangeland bird does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” a press release announcing the decision stated. “This collaborative, science-based greater sage-grouse strategy is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.”

Popovich said the land withdrawal was a “punitive gesture to further harm the mining industry as the president leaves office.”