Utah sues federal government over management of sage-grouse conservation efforts

Posted at 8:36 PM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-05 09:42:37-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah has filed a lawsuit Thursday in which the state claims the United States Departments of Interior and Agriculture have “overthrown” Utah’s sage-grouse conservation plan by adopting an amended use plan in 2015.

According to a press release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the state filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in U.S. District Court Thursday, alleging the federal government has disregarded the state’s prior efforts to conserve sage-grouse habitat.

The press release states Utah created a “landmark” conservation plan for sage-grouse in 2013, but alleges that a 2015 Federal plan contains amendments that disregard that initial conservation plan and, “impose contradictory, and often unnecessary restrictions on all activities in or near the habitat.”

The state claims this change comes despite the fact Utah has spent significant resources since 1965 to conserve sage-grouse populations, “with the observance of up to 77 percent population increase,” according to the release.

“The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office were thrust into action just months ago when the Department of the Interior and Agriculture issued the mandatory management plan amendments completely disregarding land use agreements and Utah’s sage-grouse conservation historical success,” stated Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “This unprecedented action has jeopardized conservation of the species and reasonable public use of the land in Utah.”

The sage grouse in a ground-dwelling upland game bird found in parts of 11 western states, and about 6-7 percent of the current range-wide habitat and population exists in Utah.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement Thursday in support of the lawsuit:

“The 2,000 pages of new regulations recently imposed by the federal government are in many ways more restrictive than an Endangered Species Act designation. This one-size-fits-all decision does not reflect the tremendous diversity in greater sage-grouse habitats across the West. Today’s action by the state will allow greater flexibility in protecting this unique species while allowing reasonable economic growth in rural Utah.

“I have always believed that, as a state, Utah is better positioned to manage our sage-grouse population than the federal government. Utah has adopted a strong conservation plan designed to protect, enhance and restore sage-grouse habitats throughout the state. This effort by Utah has resulted in the restoration of more than 500,000 acres of sage-grouse habitat and a significant growth in sage-grouse populations. It is unfortunate that the federal government has decided to reject this successful plan.”

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican representing Utah’s First Congressional District, also issued a statement on the controversy:

“No one is better suited to look after Utah’s interests than the people who live and work in Utah. The administration asked the state to come up with a plan to protect the bird. Utah did. It was a good plan. The administration rejected it for its own flawed plan. The Obama administration’s plan threatens military readiness and stops economic well-being while it attempts to impose its misguided will on the West. Utah is right. The White House is wrong. This lawsuit can prove that.”