New U.S. Approach But Wyoming Plans No Big Sage Grouse Changes
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Major changes to Wyoming's rules for protecting sage grouse aren't in the works even as U.S. officials give states more flexibility to enact their own strategies for protecting the birds, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.
Wyoming's governors have modified the state's sage grouse conservation strategy every couple of years since its adoption in 2007. The protections include stricter rules for oil and gas drilling and other development in large areas of the state designated as core sage grouse habitat.
This will be the first opportunity for Gordon, a Republican who took office in January, to change protections for the greater sage grouse in Wyoming. He made clear Wednesday he wasn't planning anything major since the last modifications in 2017.
"One of our hallmarks has been stability and predictability for all," Gordon said in a news release.
He extended from April 8 to May 1 a public-comment period before the governor's office gets to work on revising the plan.
Sage grouse have declined significantly from their historical populations. But Wyoming's wide, sagebrush-covered basins are strongholds for the chicken-sized, mainly ground-dwelling birds, which nowadays can be found in 11 states from the Dakotas to California.
In March, the Interior Department finalized changes that environmental groups said would allow more drilling and mining in sage grouse habitat by giving states more flexibility to adopt their own sage-grouse conservation measures.
In Wyoming, however, little different appears to be in store.
Upcoming improvements to Wyoming's plan could include making clear that noise-level restrictions apply only to core sage grouse habitat, said Bob Budd, chairman of a state sage-grouse conservation review panel called the Sage Grouse Implementation Team.
The panel also has been discussing the best scientific methods to use when evaluating livestock grazing in sage grouse habitat.
"We're not looking to change anything. We're looking to make it better," Budd said Wednesday. "The bird still has all of the protections we've built in over the last, what, 12-14 years."
At least one conservation group, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, plans to make recommendations for improving sage grouse conservation in Wyoming.
The state should enact more protection for sage grouse in an area of crucial habitat in western Wyoming called the "Golden Triangle," council spokesman Dustin Bleizeffer said.
Wyoming also should adopt better ways of making sure that energy developers are complying with the rules to protect sage grouse, Bleizeffer added. "There are some areas of improvement that are still true to the state plan," he said.