New sage grouse rules run afoul of environmentalists

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The Trump administration has finalized changes to sweeping land use plans for Western states to ease energy industry restrictions in a way officials say will protect a struggling ground dwelling bird.

The plans released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will guide efforts to protect greater sage grouse.

The chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee says the Trump administration's decision will "hand over" more public land to fossil fuel companies.

Rep. Raul Grijalva is an Arizona Democrat and said Friday's decision will most directly benefit former clients of Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Bernhardt was an oil and gas industry lobbyist.

Drilling rules and other land use restrictions are being eased through changes to plans meant to guide conservation efforts for greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that's been in decline.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director Brian Steed told The Associated Press the changes better align federal and state management of grouse habitat.

The chicken-sized birds range across portions of 11 Western states.

They are known for their elaborate mating rituals and their numbers have plummeted due to energy development, disease and other factors.