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PNS Daily Newscast - November 22, 2017 


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MT Hosts Meeting on Proposed Changes to Sage-Grouse Plan

The sage-grouse habitat stretches across 11 Western states, including Montana. (Katie Theule/USFWS)
The sage-grouse habitat stretches across 11 Western states, including Montana. (Katie Theule/USFWS)
November 7, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. – Folks in Billings will have a chance on Wednesday to weigh in on U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's proposal to make changes to the sage-grouse conservation plan.

The Bureau of Land Management is hosting scoping meetings throughout the West on possibly rolling back conservation plans, which could open the land up to more drilling and mining. Considered an indicator species, about 350 other species in the so-called "sagebrush sea" are conserved through the plan, including elk, pronghorn and golden eagles.

Ken Rait is the project director at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

"We are concerned that changes that are being contemplated may not meet with the best available science, and so we are encouraging the administration to stick with the 2015 plans, give them time to work," he says.

Critics say states need more control of the plan. But Rait notes the plans were developed in a collaborative process involving states, land users, sports people and conservationists. The sage grouse already has lost half its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population. The bird's habitat also is considered critical for ranchers to graze their animals.

Matt Holloran is a leading scientist in the field of sage-grouse research. Last month, he and 16 other scientists submitted a letter to Zinke expressing concern about the agency's decision to review the plan. Holloran is concerned with the potential changes to the plan outlined in the secretary's proposal.

"They are looking at facilitating energy development within priority habitat, working to change some of those priority habitats, and then working to potentially undermine some of the objectives providing sage grouse with quality habitat," he explains.

The sage-grouse habitat is part of an iconic western landscape that stretches across 50 million acres in eleven Western states.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT