A Sweeping Victory for Sage-Grouse!

16th of Feb 2021

Advocates for the West won a resounding victory for sage-grouse when U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill overturned a Trump Administration decision to strip protections from 10 million acres, mostly in Nevada and Idaho, to allow mining in critical habitat for greater sage-grouse. This ruling is the latest in Advocates for the West’s series of victories against Trump’s efforts to undermine sage-grouse conservation measures in favor of industrial development.

“This decision is a stinging rebuke of the Trump Administration’s total disregard for fact and science,” said Staff Attorney Sarah Stellberg, who is representing clients Center for Biological Diversity, Prairie Hills Audubon Society, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians in this case. “It’s also a crucial win for sage-grouse, who now more than ever need the protections this mining ban would provide.”

The court found that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for canceling its own earlier proposal to protect the highest-priority sagebrush habitats from hard-rock mining, and ordered BLM to reevaluate whether this protection is needed for sage-grouse conservation.

“We’re grateful our legal system once again protected the vanishing greater sage-grouse from the reckless, lawbreaking Trump administration,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration’s illegal gift to the mining industry lifted protections for 10 million acres of crucial sage-grouse habitat and would’ve pushed this beautiful bird closer to extinction. Now the new Interior secretary can establish appropriate habitat protections based on science, not favoritism to the mining industry.”

Yesterday’s decision follows a 2020 ruling, which found that Trump BLM rollbacks to Obama-era sage-grouse protection plans violated federal laws and failed to protect the iconic western bird from fossil fuel development, grazing and mining.

“This ruling is a decisive win for sage-grouse and all the other species of wildlife that rely on healthy sagebrush habitats,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “Because this particular court has adjudicated so many sage-grouse lawsuits, the judge has a command of sage-grouse science and was able to expose the Trump administration’s dismantling of habitat protections as an arbitrary attack on common-sense habitat protections.”

Greater sage-grouse once occupied hundreds of millions of acres across the West, but their populations have plummeted as oil and gas extraction, livestock grazing, roads and power lines have destroyed and fragmented their native habitats. Protecting the grouse and its habitat benefits hundreds of other species that depend on the Sagebrush Sea ecosystem. That includes pronghorn, elk, mule deer, golden eagles, native trout, and migratory and resident birds. The BLM is responsible for managing about half of the nation’s remaining sage-grouse habitat.

Read the Court Decision