Interior Department Closes Comment Period Despite Calls For Pause
Helena, MT – Today, during the ongoing national crisis, President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management will close the comment period on their supplemental sage-grouse habitat protection rollbacks. The latest redo is the Trump administration’s attempt to address a court order that found previous plans ignored science, the concerns of other agencies, and lacked analysis and justification for the industry-driven elimination of sage-grouse habitat protections that were rushed through by former oil and gas lobbyist turned-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Statement by Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill on the Trump administration closing the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) comment period that undermines the 2015 cooperative sage-grouse habitat protections at the behest of extractive industries:
“President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt are perfectly content rushing through more rollbacks to public land and wildlife habitat protections for extractive industries at a time when the nation and its people are crippled with a pandemic and the associated economic downturn. Pushing these corporate favors through while ignoring court orders and calls by state and local officials for a pause during this crisis is the definition of corruption.”
“Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s continued bidding for his former big oil and gas clients will lead the iconic sage grouse and many of the 350 other species in America’s remaining and dwindling Western sagebrush sea toward the next prairie fire of extinction at a time when resourceful resource management and preservation of our public lands and wildlife should be preeminent.”
The Trump Administration has ignored pleas by state governors, counties, cities and towns, and mayors associations to take a pause during the coronavirus pandemic. Western Governors’ calls for needed resources and personnel from federal agencies, including from the Interior Department and BLM, to assist with coronavirus have also gone unanswered. Interior’s leadership has clearly been more focused on opening a backdoor for another big oil and coal bailout and plowing forward with oil and gas leases in critical sage-grouse habitat.
After the 11-state cooperative sage-grouse habitat agreement in 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically cited habitat preservation as the reason for removing the bird from an endangered species listing consideration. Listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act would result in numerous lawsuits from groups on both sides of the issue, and limit development across wide swaths of public lands.
The Trump Administration’s continued rollback of public land and habitat protections 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.