Horse News

Statement on Bureau of Land Management’s Final Decision Weakening Sage-Grouse Habitat Protections

Source: Western Values Project

This move will impact over 350 species that depend on the “big empty” of the sagebrush sea – habitat that drives over $1 billion in economic output each year from outdoor recreation alone…”

After the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released Records of Decision on their final amendments to the 2015 sage-grouse conservation plans in seven Western states, Western Values Project (WVP) released the following statement by Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill:

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the Trump administration broke their deal with the West by scrapping the last administration’s bipartisan plans. Not only do these amendments put the bird on a fast-track to an endangered species listing by removing critical habitat protections for industrial oil and gas development, but also fly in the face of the department’s halfhearted migratory corridor initiative by allowing leasing to be prioritized over habitat for big game species like elk, mule deer and pronghorn.  

As we have documented, the changes were rigged from the outset at the behest of the same special interests and oil and gas groups that Bernhardt represented as a lobbyist, while ignoring the concerns of former Western governors and the over a half a million voices that asked them to honor the original deal. Western states and communities are now left to try to fill the void in a future that is now shrouded in uncertainty.”


A group of oil and gas companies and associations, including former clients, sent then Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt a ‘thank you’ letter for his work rolling back sage-grouse protections. The letter references issues related to Bernhardt’s role in the sage-grouse review as well as other activity that his former client appears to benefit from.

An investigative report by CNN highlighted emails obtained by WVP that showed an IPAA lobbyist emailing an Interior staffer about the new guidance. Bernhardt’s public calendars confirmed that he attended at least three Interior meeting on sage grouse that included staffers who had communicated with his former client, IPAA, on the issue.

After the 2015 agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically cited habitat preservation as the reason for removing the bird from consideration.

Report: Full analysis of oil and gas industry communication with Interior and State Bureau of Land Management on sage-grouse overhaul.

This move will impact over 350 species that depend on the “big empty” of the sagebrush sea – habitat that drives over $1 billion in economic output each year from outdoor recreation alone.

An analysis by WVP highlighted who benefits from the sage-grouse plan changes.

Leaked document reveals industry influence of Interior’s sage-grouse review.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported that it appears roughly 100,000 public comments were not included in the final report. WVP called for an investigation.

Listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act would result in numerous lawsuits from groups on both sides of the issue, and prohibit development across a wide swath of public land.


Bernhardt led Interior’s sage-grouse review, which stripped away “protections from about nine million acres of the sage-grouse habitat, a move that in a stroke opened up more land to oil and gas drilling than any other single policy action by the Trump administration” — and a move that generated rebuke from fellow Republicans.

Former GOP Wyoming Governor Matt Mead repeatedly criticized and expressed “disappointment” with Bernhardt for not including state and local leaders, including himself, in the sage-grouse review process. “We understand that you are considering changing the Department’s approach to sage grouse, moving from a habitat management model to one that sets population objectives for the states,” Mead wrote. “We are concerned that this is not the right decision.”

Similarly, former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval “took issue with” one of Bernhardt’s sage-grouse review team’s most “controversial” proposed changes, to set “state-specific population targets” rather maintaining a broad goal of “improving and restoring habitat.”

Utah GOP Governor Gary Herbert also said that Bernhardt’s proposed sage-grouse policy changes were at “conflict” with Utah’s conservation plans, noting that some Western governors consider the sage-grouse review one that “threatens to undermine a hard-won compromise” for the region.

4 replies »

  1. Grouse Down

    On the Ground in Northeast California
    A road trip through what’s left of the sagebrush country in northeast California would set off alarm bells in any person who cared to look. The handwriting has long been on the wall. In a visit to Clear Lake country nearly a decade ago, three of us combed the ground, looking for Cheeto-like grouse scat. We found only a couple of scats on the best Modoc Forest habitat, but lots of expanding weeds and crested wheatgrass seeded for cow food. Since then, more cow projects have been built and countless junipers destroyed, creating hotter, drier, weedier sites.

    In 2017, California asked Nevada for 20 wild-trapped grouse for three years for translocation, as Clear Lake’s “population growth” had stopped. The growth was the result of many past bird releases between 2005 and 2014, when numbers on the only extant lek increased from 5 strutting males to 30, then remained “stable” when the infusions of birds stopped.
    There used to be 45 leks around Clear Lake and Devil’s Garden, and now there’s only one.

    Near Alturas, medusahead and weeds rule – choking sage understories, and thriving in the livestock trampled soils beneath western junipers. No matter how many trees agencies kill, or how much largesse gets handed to ranchers, all is lost. In Likely Tablelands and Big Valley, the birds are down to zero. The Buffalo-Skedaddle country to the south comprises the largest block of habitat. The 2012 Rush fire burned 313,000 acres in California. After the fire, persistent cow trespass on closed areas was documented by wild horse advocates. Soon, livestock were officially turned out again to eat up the expensive rehab. The Pah Rah-Virginia population (nearly all in Nevada) has long been declining from fire, weeds, and housing sprawl. Chronic grazing disturbance insures the weeds choke more habitat, move into higher elevations, and rehabs fail. BLM’s response has been to kill more junipers, though fires have already taken out many of the trees and at least one new fire burned 10,570 acres of sage-grouse habitat started by sparks from contractors doing juniper removal. Despite the dire straits the northeastern California birds were obviously already in, not a single acre made the cut to be considered Focal Habitat in Jewell’s Plan amendments.


    • Have read other articles by Katie Fite – on Mountain Journal, I think. As Carol says – BLM doesnt need a scapegoat. Guess they can do whatever they want with no push back.


  2. The BLM was trying to scapegoat wild horses for loss of habitat for Sage Grouse – now they have decided they don’t even need a scapegoat.


  3. From PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

    Agency Stops Posting Performance Data and Hides Basic Programmatic Information
    Posted on Mar 21, 2019

    One of the federal government’s biggest programs acreage-wise now occupies the tiniest slice of cyberspace, according to a review by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website has demoted commercial livestock grazing from a program to a sub-program, sharing equal billing with “reindeer grazing in Alaska.”

    BLM manages commercial livestock grazing across 150 million acres in 13 Western states – a total land area nearly the size of Texas. Last year, the agency even handed out “Vision Cards” for employees to wear displaying an oil derrick on one side and cattle on the other.
    Yet, on the BLM home page, as a result of changes that likely took place sometime between March and October of 2017, grazing is no longer found in the menu for “Programs.” The user must click on the Natural Resources program to see a sub-link for “Rangelands and Grazing.” On this page are two tabs for “grazing” and “success stories.” The former contains two links, one for “Find information about livestock grazing permits, fees, and improvements” and one for “learn about reindeer grazing in Alaska.”


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