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Sage grouse review done, but scant time for changes

By Matthew Brown

The Associated Press

BILLINGS, MONT. » The Trump administration has completed a review of plans to ease protections for a struggling bird species in seven states in the U.S. West, including Colorado, but there’s little time to put the relaxed rules for industry into action before President-elect Joe Biden takes over The ground-dwelling, chickensized greater sage grouse has been at the center of a long-running dispute over how much of the American West’s expansive public lands should be developed.

A federal judge blocked the Trump administration in 2019 from its plans to relax rules on mining, drilling and grazing across millions of acres of land because of potential harm to the sage grouse.

After releasing an environmental study in November aimed at justifying the changes, Bureau of Land Management officials said in a notice Monday that they stand behind their plans.

But the ruling that blocked the changes is still in place. And with just about a week before Biden’s inauguration, environmentalists said the Trump administration’s latest move won’t change anything, barring a last-minute reversal by the court.

“It’s a nothing burger. It’s a parting shot on the way out the door,” said Greta Anderson with Western Watershed Project, one of the group’s involved in the legal case.

The changes would have affected public land in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and Oregon.

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