Western Senators Press Interior Department on Zinke’s Efforts to Dismantle Plans to Manage Sage Grouse Habitat, Mitigate Climate Change Impacts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., today pressed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the agency’s recent efforts to dismantle land management plans to protect sage grouse habitat and mitigate climate change impacts.

In a letter to Zinke, the senators expressed their concerns about guidelines issued at the end of December by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for state management of sage grouse habitat across 10 western states.

The senators wrote that the BLM’s new land management guidelines overturn guidance from 2016 that protects habitat from oil and gas drilling. Zinke’s actions undermine the conservation purpose of sage grouse plans that were locally developed with broad stakeholder input over a period of years, and put at risk the livelihoods of rural economies that rely on public lands.

“One of our most significant concerns is that oil and gas leasing and drilling will no longer be actively guided away from sage grouse habitat under the new guidelines,” the senators wrote.

“These unwanted and unneeded changes announced in the waning hours of 2017 clearly ignore a bipartisan coalition of western Governors, professional wildlife managers, and 267,000 Americans who voiced their opinions in support of the sage grouse plans during the BLM’s public comment period,” they wrote. 

The senators also requested answers from Zinke about how he intends to fulfill the Interior Department’s and BLM’s mandated responsibilities to address the impacts of climate change in managing public lands, after Zinke issued a secretarial order that rescinded guidance needed to help the Interior Department address climate change and apply landscape-scale mitigation.

A PDF of the letter is available here