Biden administration to consider return of mining ban to protect sage grouse
A ban on new mining leases on large expanses of public lands across Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming will be considered by the Biden administration as a means to protect the greater sage grouse.
The temporary ban on mining that was imposed under former President Barrack Obama was rescinded by former President Donald Trump’s administration. On May 11, the U.S. Interior Department began a review in response to a federal court order. The ban is expected to cover millions of acres of sage brush habitat considered crucial to the bird’s long-term survival.
The Associated Press reported that scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey reported the greater sage grouse numbers across 11 states is down 65 percent since 1986. The birds were once abundant in the west but development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires reduced the species population to fewer than 500,000. The quirky birds with long, pointed tail feathers are known for the male’s elaborate courtship display in which air sacs in the neck are inflated to make a popping sound.
In 2015, the Obama administration declined to place the bird under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, citing the mining withdrawal and plans to prevent development in the most important areas for sage grouse.
Under Trump, Interior officials said mining or grazing would not pose a significant threat to sage grouse.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in February that the Trump administration ignored prior science on the issue, including a 2017 government study that concluded restrictions on new mining would avoid impacts to hundreds of sage grouse breeding areas.
The National Mining Association has said blocking mining across such a large area would be unreasonable and that the science used by the Trump administration was correct. Spokesperson Conor Bernstein said the court’s order “does not ultimately mean that the BLM will move forward with the withdrawal.”
“We believe the scientific evidence on sage grouse conservation and public policy considerations regarding the need for domestic minerals to shore up the supply chains for our nation’s energy future will prevail,” he said.