Judge halted oil and gas drilling plans in large areas of Wyoming and Montana, citing concerns about a sagebrush bird

CHEYENNE, Wyo. –A judge halted oil and gas drilling plans over large areas of Wyoming and Montana, citing concerns over a sagebrush bird.

The United States Bureau of Land Management did not sufficiently consider the impact of drilling on the sage grouse, nor the possibility of postponing drilling in the bird’s primary habitat, the judge said on Wednesday. U.S. District Idaho Ronald E. Bush.

Bush ordered further study of the potential effects on the bird before drilling could continue.

Drilling would take place on more than 1,500 square kilometers of federal land scattered across energy-rich states. The Bureau of Land Management auctioned hundreds of leases in sage-grouse habitat in four sales in 2017.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is a chicken-sized bird, mainly living on the ground, whose numbers have declined significantly from the millions that inhabited the western United States during the border era. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2010 that the bird deserved special protection, but said in 2015 that Wyoming-led conservation efforts made it unnecessary.

The environmental group that sued the leases praised Bush’s decision.

“This decision sends a very strong message that the BLM can no longer lease public land for fossil fuel development without weighing the results for sensitive lands and wildlife,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, in a statement Thursday.

The federal agency and two allies in the matter, the state of Wyoming and industry group Western Energy Alliance, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move comes amid a federal moratorium on oil and gas leasing imposed by President Joe Biden’s administration as it studies the effects on climate change.

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