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"Federal scientists and land managers who've been crafting strategies to protect a ground-dwelling bird's habitat across the American West for nearly two decades are going back to the drawing board under a new Trump administration edict to reassess existing plans condemned by ranchers, miners and energy developers. Federal officials are wrapping up a series of public meetings with three sessions starting Tuesday in Utah ahead of a Nov. 27 cutoff for comment on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's order last month to consider revisions to land management amendments for the greater sage grouse that were adopted under the Obama administration. Zinke says he wants to make sure the amendments don't harm local economies in 11 western states and allow the states to have maximum control over the efforts within their borders. Conservationists say it's a thinly veiled attempt to allow more livestock grazing and drilling, similar to Trump's efforts to roll back national monument designations, but on a much larger scale. They warn it could land the hen-sized bird on the endangered species list in 2020 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to review its 2015 decision not to list it. "They appear to be dismantling the whole land-planning amendment system and starting over," said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity's Nevada state director. "It's revisionist history," he told a Fish and Wildlife Service official during a scoping meeting-turned-brainstorming session at a Sparks hotel-casino Wednesday night...Disagreement reigned over the size of protective buffer zones around grouse breeding grounds, states' role in setting federal policy and whether cattle or wild horses cause more habitat degradation. There was general agreement that invasive cheat grass is fueling one of the biggest threats - catastrophic wildfires - but little consensus on what to do about it...Republican Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana have expressed concern that altering existing plans could undermine efforts to prevent a listing...That's the message Karen Boeger delivered in Sparks. "We all duked it out on these plans," said Boeger, a retired teacher and member of the Nevada Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers who previously served on a Bureau of Land Management advisory board. "We've hardly gotten out of the chute. Let's give it a chance.""

Posted November 13th, 2017
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