Trump Administration’s Assault on Iconic American Bird Raises Concern DOJ Won’t Defend Sage-Grouse Protections From Legal Challenges

The National Audubon Society, The Wilderness Society and Democracy Forward Submit New Legal Filing to Defend Crucial Conservation Efforts in Idaho Lawsuit


Boise, Idaho — Today, Democracy Forward, on behalf of the National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society, filed a motion to intervene in litigation in federal court in Boise, Idaho (Tugaw Ranches v. United States Department of the Interior, 18-cv-00159), which seeks to strike down the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture’s landmark protections for the greater sage-grouse and its habitat. Those protections—first issued in 2015 land management plans—safeguard the iconic and environmentally critical American bird from expanded drilling, logging and mining in Western States.

“Audubon is committed to protecting the greater sage-grouse, which also means protecting the hundreds of other species that rely on these lands,” said Nada Culver, Vice President for Public Lands at the National Audubon Society. “The 2015 plans are a critical part of that protection. We want to see a strong defense of the plans and the sage-grouse against this spurious challenge, and the best way to do that is to do it ourselves.”

The Trump administration began rolling back the 2015 plans but was thwarted in October 2019 after a federal court in a separate Idaho case (Western Watershed Project v. Janice Schneider, 16-cv-83) blocked the administration. The Court called out the attempted rollback as “designed to open more land to oil, gas and mineral extraction as soon as possible…[with] no indication that current Secretary [of the Interior] David Bernhardt is proceeding at any slower pace.”

“ Continuing their pattern of ticking through the deregulatory wish lists of the mining and fossil fuel industries, the Trump administration has made clear that it is rolling back the very environmental protections at stake in this case,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “That’s why we cannot rely on the Trump administration to represent the public interest, and we’re proud to join our partners in protecting the sage-grouse and the rule of law.”

The Trump administration has unequivocally signaled its interest in decimating protections for the sage-grouse and its habitat on public lands—an area that spanned 67 million acres in the 2015 plans—through other actions including:

  • Pushing through an agenda that has opened 153.3 million acres of public land and water—primarily in the American West—to exploitative extraction by oil, gas, mineral and logging industry. The sage-grouse’s home is in 11 states, many with oil- and gas-rich land


  • Reportedly violating a federal court order preventing DOI from issuing new drilling leases in sage-grouse habitats. Less than a month after the injunction, DOI was still offering leases within the protected lands


  • Staffing DOI with senior officials that are former industry representatives who have pushed to relax sage-grouse protections


In February 2017, the Pacific Legal Foundation—a legal organization opposed to environmental protections—sued DOI on behalf of Tugaw Ranches, arguing that the 2015 sage-grouse management plan was invalid because the plans were required to be transmitted to Congress under the Congressional Review Act. The Court halted the litigation as a challenge to the administration’s rollback of the 2015 plans proceeded. 

“With the Trump Administration focused on eliminating critical protections for sage grouse, it is important that someone in the case speak up for the imperiled bird and its habitat,” said Alison Flint, Director of Litigation and Agency Policy for The Wilderness Society. “We cannot sit idly by while the Pacific Legal Foundation tests radical legal theories that not only threaten the sage grouse, but could also wreak havoc on federal land management agencies’ ability to prepare management plans for our cherished public land resources.”

The motion to intervene was filed on Friday, December 20, 2019 in the U.S. District Court of Idaho.