Conservation Groups Ask Judge to Block Land Management Plan That Could Destroy Oregon Sage-Grouse Habitat

It's the latest legal action in a court battle between birds and cows.

Sage-Grouse (USFWS)

Four national conservation groups have asked a federal judge to block land management plans in seven states, including Oregon, in order to protect threatened sage-grouse habitat.

Advocates for the West, Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed a preliminary injunction Friday in U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho, seeking to halt land use plans approved last month by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

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According to a release today from Western Watersheds Project, the management plans approved by Bernhardt would "gut protections for the birds' dwindling populations and destroy their habitat."

Erik Molvar, the group's executive director, says "The most harmful part of Bernhardt's weakening of sage-grouse plans in Oregon is the elimination of about 20,000 acres of Research Natural Areas."

Without dedicated research areas Molvar adds that it is "more difficult for federal agencies to figure out how much livestock grazing, if any, sage grouse habitats can sustain before population declines are triggered."

Sage-grouse conservation has caused friction between federal and local government agencies for nearly a decade. In 2015, a strategy to keep the animals off the Endangered Species List was approved by 11 western states.

Two years later, when that strategy went into effect, the Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District sued the then-Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, saying requirements to keep cows away from mating grouse was bad for business.

Related: A Federal Lawsuit Shows New Trouble Looming for Oregon's Greater Sage Grouse

Molvar now warns that Bernhardt's amended land use plans could cause the fragile species to disappear.

If granted, the injunction filed by conservation groups on Friday would prohibit the federal government from approving Bernhardt's land management plan amendments.

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