A Slap in the Face to Montanans and the West: Zinke Guts Bipartisan Sage Grouse Management Plan

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Secretary Zinke is at it again. Zinke is again using his position to sell out Montana, our neighbors, and our future to enrich his friends from the oil and gas industry.

Earlier this year Secretary Zinke began the process of reviewing the current Sage Grouse Management plans that were passed by states in 2015 and approved by the Department of the Interior by the previous administration.

After Secretary Zinke gutted National Monuments we should no longer be surprised when Zinke “reviews” end in highway robbery.

Zinke then issued his intent to amend 98 sage grouse habitat management plans across 10 states last September. He did this so that he could modify or issue new oil and gas leases-including in places that are priority sage grouse habitat.

Why make this change?

Western states locally created the Sage Grouse Management plans through collaborative processes, with numerous meetings and input from ranchers, conservationists, sportswomen and men, extraction industries, advocacy groups, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. These state plans took years to develop, propose, implement and be approved by then President Obama’s Department of the Interior.

In Montana, working alongside Republican legislators, Governor Bullock spearheaded the plan to set up the Sage Grouse Advisory Committee to orchestrate and coordinate the final Montana Sage Grouse Plan. Governor Bullock worked alongside Republican and Democratic legislators, neighboring states, and other stakeholders who met over two years to hammer out a compromise that protected the bird while allowing economic growth to continue.

This plan threaded the needle, almost a perfect bipartisan compromise, where no one side “won” except for the sage grouse. This plan prevented the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species. This plan was a Montana success. Now, Zinke is throwing out this bipartisan compromise to pave the way for his big industry friends.

It’s hard to imagine that Secretary Zinke is doing this because he cares for the sage grouse, hunters, ranchers, or preserving our open lands. Oil and Gas production is at an all-time high, so much so that the nation is experiencing an oil glut that has caused prices to drop, so what more do these corporations and Ryan Zinke want? Zinke is doing it for himself and helping his corporate donors who are bankrolling his political aspirations.

Secretary Zinke’s efforts to undermine the current plan and handing out oil and gas leases that encroach on the sage grouse’s habitat will result in destruction of sage grouse habitat, leading to a decline in population and then being listed on the endangered species list or eventually driving them to extinction. The irony of this is that big industry will then be heavily restricted from accessing or developing these lands in the future. But they don’t care. Big Industry would rather get what they can now, at the expense of our future.

Just like Republicans in Congress, the oil and gas industry is trying to cash in on Secretary Zinke and Trump’s public lands yard sale before the American people take back our country. The reversal of the approved state sage grouse management plans is a slap in the face to everyone in Montana, especially Republican lawmakers, who came together to create a locally made Montana solution.

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