Utah sues over greater sage grouse federal management plan

Utah’s state government sued the US Departments of the Interior and Agriculture for adopting a new greater sage grouse management plan on Sept. 18, 2015, which allegedly overthrew the state’s own 2013 conservation plan for the bird.

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Utah’s state government sued the US Departments of the Interior and Agriculture for adopting a new greater sage grouse management plan on Sept. 18, 2015, which allegedly overthrew the state’s own 2013 conservation plan for the bird.

“The 2,000 pages of new regulations recently imposed by the federal government are in many ways more restrictive than an Endangered Species Act designation,” Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) said following the suit’s filing in US District Court for Utah on Feb. 3.

“This one-size-fits-all decision does not reflect the tremendous diversity in greater sage grouse habitats across the West,” he maintained. “Today’s action by the state will allow greater flexibility in protecting this unique species while allowing reasonable economic growth in rural Utah.”

Utah worked with the federal government, other states, county and local governments, oil and gas producers, landowners, recreation groups, and other stakeholders to prevent the greater sage grouse’s listing as threatened or endangered under the ESA (OGJ Online, Sept. 22, 2015).

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Its lawsuit claimed that the amendments disregarded multiple use and sustained yield, a federal land management hallmark, and imposed contradictory, and often unnecessary, restrictions on all activities in or near the bird’s habitat. The state also said that significant resources to conserve Utah’s sage grouse populations have been in place since 1965, with the observance of up to 0.77% population increase.

‘Thrust into action’

“The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office were thrust into action just months ago when the Interior and Agriculture departments issued the mandatory management plan amendments, completely disregarding land use agreements and Utah’s sage-grouse conservation historical success,” Atty. Gen. Sean D. Reyes (R) said. “This unprecedented action has jeopardized conservation of the species and reasonable public use of the land in Utah.”

He said that at the invitation of then-US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar in 2013, Herbert approved a landmark state conservation plan to enhance and expand earlier sage grouse conservation efforts by analyzing all habitat, populations, and opportunities to better conserve the bird. About 6.1% of the current range-wide habitat and 6.8% of the species currently exist in limited areas of Utah, Reyes said.

An official with the Western Energy Alliance in Denver expressed approval of the state government’s legal action. “Utah has achieved real results, including a 40% population increase, with its conservation plan tailored to actual conditions on the ground,” WEA Vice-Pres. for Government and Public Affairs Kathleen Sgamma said.

“On the other hand, the US Bureau of Land Management’s plan the governor is challenging ignored the hard work and proven success of the State of Utah, counties, landowners, conservation groups, and industries in favor of a uniform, federal approach,” she said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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