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Lawsuit Targeting Oil, Gas Lease Sales Cites Imperiled Sage Grouse

Sage grouse.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region (PD)
Sage grouse.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Environmental groups sued the Trump administration on Monday for selling oil and gas leases on huge swaths of Western public lands while allegedly ignoring policies meant to protect an imperiled bird.

Attorneys for Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity asked a federal judge in Idaho to reverse lease sales totaling 475 square miles (1,230 square kilometers) in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

The groups also sought to block upcoming sales by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management totaling more than 1,800 square miles (4,662 square kilometers) in those four states plus Idaho.

The parcels in dispute include habitat for greater sage grouse, a chicken-sized, ground-dwelling bird that ranges across 11 Western states.

Greater sage grouse populations drastically declined in recent decades because of energy development that broke up the bird's habitat along with disease, livestock grazing and other causes.

Under former President Barack Obama, the Interior Department delayed many lease sales for years because of sage grouse worries. In 2015, it adopted a set of wide-ranging plans meant to protect the best grouse habitat and keep the bird off the endangered species list.

Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has placed a greater priority on energy development, including directives from the agency that modified restrictions imposed by the Obama administration.

Monday's lawsuit claims those modifications were improper and also that Zinke's agency unlawfully limited environmental reviews of lease sales.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle declined comment on the lawsuit.

The case is before Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush in U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho.

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