U.S. sage grouse policy heading back to square one

(Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)

SPARKS, Nev. — U.S. scientists and land managers who’ve been crafting strategies to protect a ground-dwelling bird across the American West for nearly two decades are going back to the drawing board.

Federal officials wrap up a series of public meetings with three sessions in Utah this week. The meetings come ahead of a Nov. 27 cutoff on public comment after the interior secretary ordered a reassessment of sage grouse protection plans condemned by ranchers, miners and energy developers.

Secretary Ryan Zinke says he wants to make sure the amendments adopted under the Obama administration don’t harm local economies in 11 western states.

Conservationists say it’s a thinly veiled attempt to allow more livestock grazing and drilling. They warn it ultimately could land the hen-sized bird on the endangered species list.

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