Sage Grouse to Gain from Mineral Withdrawal

The greater sage grouse is an umbrella species, emblematic of the health of the sagebrush habitat it shares with more than 350 other kinds of wildlife, including world-class populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and golden eagles.

Sage grouse once occupied nearly half a million square miles and numbered in the millions. Now, this iconic Western bird, with its flamboyant dance, occupies a little more than half of its historic range, and its numbers have declined to several hundred thousand.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recently decided that the greater sage-grouse would not need protection under the Endangered Species Act if the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service took proactive steps to conserve sage-grouse habitat on public lands.  Those agencies manage roughly half of the remaining greater sage-grouse habitat.

Sage grouse are vulnerable to a variety of activities including mining. Large-scale mining equals large-scale disturbance – displacing natural habitat with thousands of acres of industrial activity (e.g., open pits, tailings impoundments, waste rock piles).

As part of a national effort to protect this iconic Western species, the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to protect 10 million acres of Sagebrush Focal Areas from mining (subject to valid existing rights).

The proposal is vital. Without a formal mineral withdrawal, the 1872 Mining Law requires the agencies to prioritize mining over all other land uses, including wildlife conservation.

On September 24, 2015, the BLM started the process by temporarily withdrawing these lands for mining for two years, while it completes its environmental review of the proposal.  The agency is accepting comments on the proposal until January 15, 2015.  Earthworks will be submitting comments and defending the proposal.

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