HELENA — The governors of Wyoming and Montana say a federal plan to protect the greater sage grouse is far more restrictive than Western states’ own programs to help the struggling species.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week to rewrite major portions of a draft federal policy for protecting the ground-dwelling bird.
The governors submitted comments to the agency’s state directors in separate letters, both dated July 29, outlining their positions on the draft that was released May 28.
Mead said the BLM is wrong to portray livestock grazing as a threat to sage grouse. He said the agency incorrectly claims that determination would have no economic repercussions.
“This conclusion defies common sense,” Mead wrote.
Policies that could hurt Wyoming’s agricultural industry were supported in the federal plan by faulty analyses and preferentially pieced-together research, Mead said.
“The agencies cannot simply present conclusions based on conjecture and refuse to acknowledge likely adverse economic impacts because the exact extent of those impacts is not yet known,” Mead wrote. “The best estimates of impacts must be determined and included.”
Bullock said the federal plan spanning BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands in 10 states could impact Montana’s ability to cultivate its natural resources.
He said it includes “an unreasonable and unnecessary blanket prohibition on the leasing and development of oil and gas resources on federal lands in Montana,” as well as a ban on any new gravel mining.
The BLM was reviewing the governors’ comments Thursday afternoon and did not provide immediate comment.
Bullock told reporters on Thursday that he was frustrated by some aspects of the BLM plan. He said in his letter he was disappointed by the discrepancies between the federal proposal and state plans, considering the bureau recommended Wyoming’s core-habitat strategy to him in 2013.
A court has told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by Sept. 30 whether the birds need protection as a threatened or endangered species. A decision to list could severely restrict oil and gas drilling and other development in the region.