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A Greater Sage Grouse seen flaunting its tail feathers. (Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr)
A Greater Sage Grouse seen flaunting its tail feathers. (Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr)

Wyoming counties, conservation districts sue over sage grouse

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A group of counties and conservation districts in western Wyoming is the latest to sue the federal government over its plans to protect habitat for the greater sage grouse over a vast area of the West.

The lawsuit from the Wyoming Coalition of Local Governments joins lawsuits filed by ranchers, mining companies and others who call the management changes for federal land an example of federal overreach. Environmentalists also have sued — they say the plans don’t go far enough.

The coalition lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Cheyenne advances claims the government “sterilized massive areas of public land to multiple use and natural resource development” in violation of federal laws and based on insufficient analysis and flawed science.

The coalition includes Uinta, Lincoln and Sublette counties, as well as conservation districts — local government agencies charged with helping to protect land and water resources — in those counties.

The greater sage grouse is a ground-dwelling bird that has lost much of its habitat to development and an invasive, fire-prone grass. Biologists estimate the bird has declined significantly in number, from perhaps 16 million to no more than 500,000 today.

The birds now range across 11 states, from the Oregon to the Dakotas, with fairly large populations remaining in Wyoming’s wide sagebrush basins.

Environmental groups sued to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the birds as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Facing a court-ordered deadline to decide whether or not to list the greater sage grouse, the Interior Department announced in September that it would not pursue federal protection.

Instead, Interior announced it would implement a series of land-use plans on federal lands across most of the birds’ range. The plans include seasonal and other restrictions to spread out oil, gas, wind and power line development.

Wyoming officials including Gov. Matt Mead have a long record of suing the federal government over endangered species and land-use policies but support the sage grouse management plan. Federal officials modeled their plans after one the state implemented almost a decade ago.

In related news, Environmentalists sue for more rules to protect sage grouse.

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