U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a summary judgment to the Western Watersheds Project and other environmental organizations, which had sued to protect the land. Winmill called the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to suddenly reverse protections for the bird’s habitat throughout the American West “arbitrary and capricious.”
“The court finds that the reasons given do not provide the reasoned explanation needed to support the BLM’s change in position regarding the need for the withdrawal, rendering the cancellation decision arbitrary and capricious,” Winmill wrote.
“We’re grateful our legal system once again protected the vanishing greater sage grouse from the reckless, lawbreaking Trump administration,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was also part of the suit.
“The Trump administration’s illegal gift to the mining industry lifted protections for 10 million acres of crucial sage-grouse habitat and would’ve pushed this beautiful bird closer to extinction. Now the new Interior secretary can establish appropriate habitat protections based on science, not favoritism to the mining industry.”
Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, called the ruling a “decisive win” for sage grouse and other species of wildlife that depend on the habitats.
Most of the affected areas are in Idaho and Nevada. The BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had decided in previous years to bar mining in the areas to protect the sage grouse.
Sage grouse, ground-dwelling game birds with an elaborate mating ritual, used to number in the millions in the nation. Loss of sagebrush habitat from development and invasive plant species has decimated the population, now estimated between 200,000 to 500,000. Their current range spans about 257,000 square miles across 11 Western states, less than half of the species’ historic range.
The Department of the Interior still has an opportunity to present a rational argument for why the change should be made. But it’s unlikely the Biden administration will do so, particularly given President Joe Biden’s position favoring environmental protections.