WASHINGTON — The Interior Department on Monday unveiled a plan to protect the threatened sage grouse that gives Western states greater flexibility to allow mining, logging and other economic development where it now is prohibited.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the strategy for the ground-dwelling bird that has suffered a dramatic population decline across its 11-state range. Zinke insisted that the federal government and the states can work together to protect the sage grouse and its habitat while not slowing economic growth and job creation.
While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect the bird, officials also have an obligation "to be a good neighbor and a good partner," Zinke said. The new plan ensures that conservation efforts "do not impede local economic opportunities," he said.
The plan comes after a 60-day review Zinke ordered in June of a 2015 plan imposed by the Obama administration. The plan set land-use policies across the popular game-bird's 11-state range intended to keep it off the federal endangered species list.
Mining companies, ranchers and governors in some Western states — especially Utah, Idaho and Nevada — said the plan ordered by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would impede oil and gas drilling and other economic activity.
Environmental groups said Jewell's plan did not do enough to protect the sage grouse from extinction.
The ground-dwelling sage grouse, long associated with the American West, has lengthy, pointed tail feathers and is known for the male's elaborate courtship display in which air sacs in the neck are inflated to make a popping sound.
Millions of sage grouse once roamed the West but development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires has reduced the bird's population to fewer than 500,000 across 11 states from California to the Dakotas.
States affected by the plan are California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.