The Department of Interior, along with the Bureau of Land Management, has proposed that 10 million acres of federal mining land be withdrawn in order to protect sage grouse populations. Critics allege that the measure is unnecessary and will not benefit the bird species.
Katie Sweeney of the National Mining Association said research shows that invasive species and wildfires present a bigger threat to sage grouse than mining does. She said that federal agencies are ignoring efforts made by private companies to improve conservation.
“The BLM, which is the agency that is this withdrawal, is the same agency that regulates mining on federal lands. So, they should be most well aware of what the mining companies do on the conservation end,” she said. “They should also know that many of these mining companies, post-mining—when they’ve completed their reclamation efforts—actually are leaving the land in better condition for sage grouse.”
Individual states, including Utah, have taken action to protect sage grouse habitat, which has led to a 63 percent increase in the bird’s population since 2013. Sweeney said that the proposal to further restrict mining limits the nation’s industrial potential.
“The federal lands have huge mineral potential. They provide a great deal of the mineral resources that U.S. manufacturing uses today and could provide even more if we stop putting it off limits,” she said. “We’re import-dependent for more than 19 key minerals and more than 50 percent import-dependent for an additional 24 mineral commodities. Yet, we have $6.2 trillion worth of mineral resources under our shores.”
The proposal is currently in a public comment period.
For more about sage grouse and Utah’s mines, click here.
Read the full report and listen to the interview in Utah Public Radio.