BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration has completed a review of plans to ease protections for a struggling bird species in seven states in the U.S. West, but there's little time to put the relaxed rules for industry into action before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The ground-dwelling, chicken-sized greater sage grouse has been at the center of a long-running dispute over how much of the American West's expansive public lands should be developed.
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration in 2019 from its plans to relax rules on mining, drilling and grazing across millions of acres of land because of potential harm to the sage grouse.
After releasing an environmental study in November aimed at justifying the changes, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials said in a notice Monday that they stand behind their plans.
But the ruling that blocked the changes is still in place. And with just eight days left before Biden's inauguration, environmentalists said the Trump administration's latest move won't change anything, barring a last-minute reversal by the court.
“It's a nothing burger. It's a parting shot on the way out the door," said Greta Anderson with Western Watershed Project, one of the group's involved in the legal case. “We don't expect the Biden administration to defend these terrible plans.”
Sage grouse once numbered in the millions but have seen their range that stretches across portions of 11 states diminished by oil and gas drilling, wildfires, grazing and other pressures.
The Obama administration, with Biden as vice president, adopted restrictions in 2015 meant to protect the best grouse habitat and keep the bird off the threatened and endangered species list.
Under Trump, the Interior Department in 2017 began to ease the restrictions on drilling, mining and other activities and adopted new land use plans for the seven states in 2019. Months later, the changes were blocked — and the Obama plans restored — by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho.
Bureau of Land Management officials did not reply to emailed questions about whether they will ask Winmill to lift his injunction.
The Trump administration changes would have affected public land in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and Oregon. Sage grouse territory in Montana, Washington and the Dakotas would not be affected.
WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (AP) — A small private business jet crashed in mountainous terrain in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of central Oregon, killing the pilot and a single passenger on board, authorities said Sunday.
Warm Springs tribal police were notified by air traffic controllers in Seattle, Washington at about 2:30 p.m. PST Saturday of a possible crash in the Mutton Mountains on the reservation, roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Warm Springs, said tribal police Lt. Ron Gregory.
Flyovers by the Oregon State Police and the U.S. Air Force confirmed a crash late Saturday. Snow, mud, downed trees and rugged terrain prevented rescuers from Warm Springs police, Wasco County and state police from reaching the remote site until about 12 p.m. Sunday, Gregory said.
Rescuers confirmed that the pilot and a lone passenger on the twin-engine Cessna Citation C560 were killed, Gregory said.
The victims' identities weren't immediately released. The pilot had filed a flight plan from Troutdale Airport, east of Portland, to Boise, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Christopher O'Neil. There didn't appear to be significant weather along the flight route, O'Neil said.
The aircraft's owner wasn't immediately known.
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say they have cut into an opioid pipeline that for five years has been moving millions of dollars worth of oxycodone pills from Detroit to three American Indian reservations in North Dakota.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley of North Dakota said Thursday that 26 people have been charged in the case dubbed Operation Blue Prairie. Wrigley said tens of thousands of pills with a street value of at least $2.5 million have been sold primarily on the Turtle Mountain, Spirit Lake and Fort Berthold reservations.
“It is fueling and driving the addiction problems we have in Indian Country and across the state of North Dakota,'' Wrigley said.
Wrigley said nine of the defendants have connections to Detroit and the other 17 are North Dakotans who were recruited to help with distribution and ``to feed their own addiction in some instances.'' Investigators have recovered numerous weapons.
All have been charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, while some face additional weapons and money laundering charges. Two brothers accused of supervising the operation, Baquan and Darius Sledge, are facing mandatory sentences of 20 years in prison on charges of criminal continuing enterprise. Their attorneys did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comments.
Indian reservations can be easy prey because dealers can find a “mid-level'' person who can be trusted and law enforcement is generally understaffed, Wrigley said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently operating at 40% capacity, he said.
“What if the Fargo Police Department were staffed at 40%? How long would we stand for that?'' Wrigley said.