Biden administration to revisit Greater Sage Grouse regulation


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving to amend federal regulations designed to save Greater Sage Grouse and its dwindling sagebrush habitat in the United States.

The bird, famous for its elaborate spring mating ritual, is struggling across much of its range in western America despite decades of different efforts by federal and state regulators. The species to is increasingly threatened by drought and wildfires.

The sagebrush habitat of Greater Sage Grouse is threatened (Steve Bell).

BLM is working to complete a revised management plan for the nearly 28 million hectares of habitat the agency oversees across the west, first adopted in 2015 under the Obama administration and amended in 2019 under former President Donald Trump.

BLM, which has reviewed more than 300 peer-reviewed studies that have been published since 2015, is considering major changes, including possibly redesignating some core sage grouse territory into "areas of critical environmental concern," which would add new restrictions on everything from energy development to recreational activities across potentially hundreds of thousands of hectares.

Other possible revisions could include stronger enforcement of seasonal restrictions on land use activities, such as curbing oil and gas drilling during sage grouse mating or brood rearing seasons and larger buffers around breeding grounds. These moves also could end up restricting where new wind and solar farms are sited, setting up a potential conflict with Biden administration efforts to expand commercial-scale renewable energy development on federal lands.

BLM could also decide to leave in place some of the Trump-era revisions, such as waivers and exemptions from some of the buffer requirements and seasonal restrictions in the original 2015 blueprint.

Industry groups are already anxious about the revised rule, which would likely involve amending 70 BLM land use plans in 10 western states, fearing possible new restrictions on oil and gas drilling, surface mining, and livestock grazing.

Also watching closely are conservation groups that have pushed for stronger sage grouse management, even after the 2015 plans were adopted. They are hopeful BLM will adopt modifications that address growing threats to the bird from climate change and the associated risks of wildfires and drought conditions.