The White House is eliminating crucial animal protection laws for the sage grouse. The protections, originally put in place by President Barack Obama, are being rolled back to open millions of acres of land for gas and oil development. Conservationists warn the move could land the sage grouse back on the endangered species list.

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The Donald Trump administration’s new plan targets 8.7 million acres of Sagebrush Focal Areas, an important habitat for the sage grouse and hundreds of other wildlife. Since 2015, oil and gas companies have been unable to set up shop in these areas, which has boosted grouse populations.

Related: Trump administration wants to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list

Steve Holmer, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, revealed that stripping away these protections has already cut down grouse populations in the Dakotas and Washington State.

“These changes will put the grouse back on a path toward needing an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing,” ABC President, Mike Parr, shared. “That’s exactly the outcome that the 2015 cooperative plans had sought to prevent.”

Trump first proposed the plan back in December with the goal of opening the door for more gas and oil development on public land. Trump is justifying his new initiative by calling for a new age of “energy dominance” in America, and his Interior Department head, David Bernhardt, is helping make it happen.

Bernhardt is also looking to revise the Endangered Species Act, which was put in place back in 1973. Bernhard, who used to be an oil lobbyist, wants regulators to consider the economic effects of placing wildlife on the endangered list. This would ultimately make it easier to justify developing in endangered habitats that were previously off limits.

With Trump’s new plan threatening sage grouse populations across the country, conservationists are doing their best to protect the beloved bird. This includes studying population numbers and learning how gas and oil development affects those statistics moving forward.

Conservationists are also looking to put the sage grouse on the endangered species list, something that has not been possible because of the previous animal protection laws.

Via New York Times

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