On October 16, 2019, a federal court in Idaho blocked President Trump’s plan to ease bird protections on oil lands. Earlier in 2019, President Trump’s administration amended the sage grouse protection plans for Nevada, northeastern California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.  Under the weakened protections, the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) could more easily approve oil and gas leases, drilling permits, rights of way for roads, pipelines and power lines, coal and phosphate mining approvals, and livestock grazing permit renewals.  The Trump administration’s plan was designed to open up more land to oil, gas, and mineral extraction as soon as possible.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction that suspends efforts by the BLM to weaken protections for the greater sage grouse.  While the halt is temporary, Judge Winmill commented that the environmental organization’s argument that BLM failed to consider reasonable alternatives and did not thoroughly examine the environmental consequences of its actions is likely to prevail.

This decision is the first major legal ruling on the Trump administration’s plan to lift protections for the sage grouse and represents a win for environmental activists.  The immediate effect of the ruling is that a previous sage grouse plan from 2015 (Obama’s administration) is now reinstated until a court makes a final ruling on the legality of the Trump administration’s plan.  Under the Obama plan, oil and gas drilling was banned or limited in 10.7 million acres where the bird lives and on lands located within “sagebrush focal areas.”  The Trump administration’s plan aimed to limit that designation to 1.8 million acres mostly in Oregon and Montana.