The America Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA), formerly the Northwest Mining Association, recently accused the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service of making an unprecedented attempted to limit multiple use on public lands through use of “the Spotted Owl on Steroids”—the Greater Sage-Grouse.

“BLM and USFS are inappropriately using concerns about a potential listing of the Greater Sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act to asset a need for widespread land use restrictions—including withdrawing over 17 million acres from operation of the US Mining Law,” said AEMA, which represents U.S. explorationists, as well as mining companies.

The association claimed that the “sweeping land use restrictions and prohibitions” in the BLM/USFS Draft environmental impact statements for sage-grouse exceed the agencies’ statutory authority “by proposing actions that fail to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and violate: The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), General Mining Laws, the Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Data Quality Act.”

The preferred alternatives contained in the draft BLM/USFS EIS documents “are not based on the best available science and commercial data,” AEMA contends. The association accusing the agencies of “focusing on new regulatory mechanisms instead of better implementation of regulatory mechanisms and private conservation efforts with assurances.”

The association suggested that the BLM and Forest Service’s real purpose “is NOT sage-grouse conservation.”

“Rather, the so-called conservation measures are designed to: Find another way to implement the draconian land use restrictions in the aborted Wild Lands Policy and Secretarial Order 3310; Dramatically reduce and even prevent mining, energy development (both conventional and renewable), grazing, and multiple-use of public lands.”

In fact, AMEA argued, “The proposed conservation measures are more draconian that the restrictions that would result from an ESA listing of the species.”

‘Because the Greater Sage-grouse habitat covers nearly 60 million acres in 11 western states, the proposed land use restrictions and prohibitions will cause economic devastation to communities across the west—just like the Spotted Owl caused in the Northwest but on a much larger scale,” the association contends.

In the late 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the spotted owl threatened and put its habitat off-limit to timber production—estimated at 5.3 million acres in 2008. More than 200 mills in the Northwest closed and thousands of jobs were lost after the designation.

AMEA urged Congress to “prohibit BLM/USFS from finalizing the EIS and amending land use plans covering 11 western states, and USFWS from making a listing decision” until Congress has a chance to investigate the issue.

iPad Version: Picture – Sage Grouse: Ho New / Reuters