Sage Grouse

A male sage grouse struts early Monday, April 17, 2017 on a lek in southern Natrona County. Groups sign joint letter advising Interior Department on sage grouse management. 

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

A diverse group of Wyoming organizations advised the Interior Department on Thursday to follow the Cowboy State's example on the imperiled sage grouse.

Representatives from groups that rarely find themselves on the same side of the table signed a joint letter to the Bureau of Land Management reaffirming their commitment to Wyoming's strategy for conservation.

The organizations included the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the Wyoming Mining Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, the Wyoming Business Alliance, the Campbell County Board of Commissioners, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society.

Wyoming’s way of identifying crucial grouse habitats and surrounding them with the strictest protections, while prioritizing development like oil and gas outside those boundaries, was mimicked in the federal management plans that are now open for revision.

A public comment period that invited new challenges and suggested changes to the two-year-old plans closed today.

In contrast to some other recent comments, the coalition letter did not lay out specific changes it wanted made. Instead, it asked that the Interior keep any updates consistent with Wyoming’s rules on the matter, which are laid out in a series of executive orders from previous Gov. Dave Freudenthal and current Gov. Matt Mead, the groups said.

The state followed the science and worked together on these plans.

The feds should too, the letter states.

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called for a review of the sage grouse plans, laid out in more than 90 local management guidelines, covering 11 western states. The review and subsequent suggested revisions are in line with the Trump Administration’s mandate to reconsider federal regulations that hamper energy development. Zinke said at the time that many westerners had expressed anger at the plans and a desire for change.

The plans were controversial, but Wyoming largely celebrated when the plans effectively staved off an endangered species listing in 2015. Most groups that actively participated in developing the state and federal plans have said the regulations could be improved but the underlying strategy should remain intact.

Wyoming, where 30 percent of the birds live, has a history of collaboration on all things grouse, but the nine organizations behind Thursday’s letter represent a surprising range of viewpoints, nonetheless.

Other groups have also made strong statements to the Interior preceding the comment period deadline.

The Western Watersheds Project, which filed the original lawsuit attempting to list the bird as endangered, warned again of the threat of extinction without stronger plans.

The DOI’s state by state approach is “appalling,” Rebecca Fischer from Wild Earth Guardians said in a statement Friday.

“This ignores the need to consider the species’ needs at a range-wide scale and will result in the failure to apply strong and consistent protections,” she said.

The Western Values Project meanwhile is seeking an extension on the 45-day comment period because the Interior hasn’t released documents the group requested. Western Values alleges that its Freedom of Information Act request could reveal that industry lobbyists had undue influence in the agency’s review.

Outspoken groups from the industry side also weighed in this week. The Western Energy Alliance out of Denver called for more state control and collaboration going forward, a softened take compared to the fervor of some of its earlier statements.

Finally, Wyoming’s governor reiterated the need for sound science to lead future changes to the plans, as well as his unease with some of the more controversial strategies mentioned by Zinke that were also noted in the agency’s review this summer.

Wyoming agencies sent a list of proposed changes along with the governor’s comments on how the plans could be improved without undermining the Wyoming approach.

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