On Friday, May 22, 2020, federal district court judge in Montana ruled in favor of greater sage grouse protections and against the BLM and its resource management plans’ amendments. Montana Wildlife Federation et.al. v. Bernhardt et.al. (CV-18-69-GF-BMM May 22, 2020). It set aside the lease sales that were offered in priority grouse habitat in violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. BLM had instead followed its 2018 Instruction Memorandum (IM 2018-026) that it claimed enabled it to disregard the 2015 plans that had required leasing be prioritized outside of grouse priority habitat.
The lawsuit concerned lease sales in Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. It is a tremendous victory as grouse habitats continue to dwindle with development and fragmentation.
The 2015 plan in Colorado and plans in other western states were a product of broad, diverse collaboration with the aim to prevent listing of the greater sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species. In Colorado, too, although not directly at issue in the lawsuit, BLM has disregarded its 2015 resource management plan requirement that it prioritize areas outside of priority sage grouse habitat to offer at quarterly oil and gas lease sales. In North Park, priority grouse habitat has been heavily leased. Instead BLM relied upon the above Instruction Memorandum which the judge in the case held violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The BLM should stop relying upon its IM and immediately halt leasing in priority grouse habitat in Colorado as well.