The Trump administration on Thursday published a formal notice to overhaul an Obama-era plan to protect sage grouse, a chicken-sized Western bird.
The seven-page notice of intent says the Bureau of Land Management plans to consider changing "some, all or none [Bureau of Land Management] land-use plans that were amended or revised in 2014 or 2015 regarding greater sage grouse conservation in the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Montana."
Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered a review of former President Barack Obama's sage grouse plans to see if they were limiting energy production.
A special sage grouse task force in the Interior Department issued recommendations last month in a 53-page report, focusing on giving states more flexibility under Obama's sage grouse protection plan.
The task force report recommended the Interior Department work with states to determine appropriate levels for the bird populations on a state-by-state basis, while giving states more flexibility on how to meet the Obama administration's land protection standards. It recommended the agency clarify the process for how states can acquire waivers and exceptions in priority habitat areas.
The recommendations came in response to the complaints from oil and natural gas drilling companies, as well as farmers, ranchers and other land developers over the sage grouse policy.
By submitting a formal notice of intent, the Interior Department is acting on those recommendations.
The public now has 45 days to comment on the proposal.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, applauded Zinke's decision to reconsider the sage grouse policy.
"These withdrawals were never about Sage Grouse conservation," Bishop said in a statement. "It was all a ploy to assert more federal power, ignore actual data and best science, and diminish the influence and authority of states. Secretary Zinke is developing a better policy through input from states and people on the ground with local knowledge and expertise."
Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, in creating the Obama administration's policy, said she tried to strike a balance between maintaining the bird's habitat while avoiding implementing stricter protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Those plans, completed in 2015, involved negotiations with conservationists, sportsmen, energy industry officials, and federal, state, local and tribal authorities.
Jewell described the plans as a compromise meant to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list, which would have imposed greater restrictions on land occupied by the birds.
Conservation and environmental groups criticized Zinke's intent to change the plans.
"The Interior Department is traversing down a dangerous path that could put this vital habitat at risk," said Nada Culver, senior director of policy and planning at the Wilderness Society.
"These plans took nearly a decade of collaboration and planning with a variety of western stakeholders, and should not be torn apart in mere months."