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US pushes changes to Western land plans that judge blocked

BILLINGS, Mont. - U.S. Interior Department officials are seeking to bolster their case for easing restrictions on energy development, mining and grazing in Western states inhabited by a declining bird species.

A federal judge in Idaho blocked the Trump administration plans last year over concerns that they could harm greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird.

Assistant Interior Secretary Casey Hammond says a new set of environmental studies published Friday clarifies the steps the government will take to conserve the bird’s habitat.

The Interior Department opened a 45-day public comment period on the studies that cover millions of acres of public lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and California.

Sage grouse have been in decline for decades due to habitat loss and other factors, and their numbers dropped sharply last year across much of their range.

Sage grouse territory in Montana, Washington and the Dakotas was not impacted by the proposed changes.

The legal dispute over the administration’s proposal is before Judge B. Lynn Winmill In Idaho.

The case dates to 2016, when environmental groups sued the Obama administration over a previous set of rules that they described as insufficient to protect grouse from heading toward extinction.
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