The greater sage-grouse is the largest grouse species in North America with a range that stretches across 165 million acres in eleven western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The sage-grouse are dependent on contiguous sagebrush habitat during all seasons for breeding, nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering. Greater sage-grouse population numbers are difficult to measure because of their large-scale, camouflaged habitat.
In March of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published “12-Month Finding for Petitions to List the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as Threatened or Endangered.” The FWS found that listing of the greater sage-grouse was “warranted, but precluded” by higher listing priorities. This finding prompted unprecedented state-led conservation efforts, especially in Wyoming. These efforts were successful, because on September 22, 2015, citing the success of collaborative conservation efforts, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that listing of greater sage-grouse was no longer warranted and would be withdrawn from the candidate species list.
In September of 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service finalized their Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan Amendments and dismissed protests by the WSGA and others. Similar plans affect California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah.
Though the FWS declined to list sage grouse as endangered or threatened, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, which manage acreage in the Mountain West for “multiple use” purposes, including mining, announced plans to withdraw over ten million acres of federal land in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming from operation of the General Mining Law of 1872. They did so in violation of federal law and without allowing public participation in the process by which they sought to amend federal land use plans.
On April 19, 2016, the American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) filed its lawsuit challenging three of the four records of decision (RODs approving land use plan amendments and revisions in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
On June 24, 2016, the agencies filed their answer. Six days later, the agencies filed a motion to sever and transfer AEMA’s case. Specifically, the agencies requested that the district court sever AEMA’s challenges to the Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming (Bighorn) sub-regions from the rest of AEMA’s claims and transfer those severed claims to the Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming district courts where other challenges were pending. The rest of AEMA’s claims would remain in the District of Columbia.
On July 25, 2016, AEMA filed its opposition to the motion to sever and transfer. On August 8, 2016, the agencies filed their reply. On March 21, 2017, the federal district court rejected the agencies’ motion to sever and transfer the case. Meanwhile, environmental groups filed a belated motion to intervene in the case, which AEMA opposed on May 10, 2017.
On June 7, 2017, the Secretary of the Interior issued Secretarial Order No. 3353, which, among other matters, directed the BLM to review the greater sage-grouse land use plan amendments and revisions, as well as the BLM Instruction Memoranda. In light of Secretarial Order 3353, the parties filed a joint motion to stay litigation. On July 6, 2017, the district court granted the stay for 90 days, vacated all deadlines, and ordered the parties to file a status report on October 4, 2017, on whether the stay should be continued. On August 4, 2017, the BLM submitted its “Report in Response to Secretarial Order 3353.” This report took no immediate action, but proposed possible short-term and long-term options regarding problematic provisions in the land use plan amendments and revisions. That same day, Secretary Zinke sent a Memorandum to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior directing the implementation of the short-term and long-term recommendations in the Report. Secretary Zinke further requested the Deputy Secretary to report to him “periodically, and no less than every 6 months” on progress implementing the Report’s recommendations.
On October 11, 2017, the BLM issued notice of its intent to amend its sage grouse plans and solicited comments. On November 21, 2017, the Forest Service issued a similar notice. AEMA timely submitted comments in response to both solicitations. Meanwhile, on October 4, 2017, the parties filed a joint status report recommending that the stay be continued for another 90 days. On November 2, 1017, the district court extended the stay until January 31, 2018.