SALT LAKE CITY — Groups are praising the deferral of more than 1 million acres of land for potential oil and gas development in five Western states, including Utah.
The Bureau of Land Management acreage, which had been on the table for a December auction, involves greater sage grouse habitat.
"We're pleased the Bureau of Land Management is following the judge's ruling and at least temporarily protecting large swaths of greater sage grouse habitat," said Taylor McKinnon, of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The habitat is on land in Utah, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado.
"Elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope need the same habitat the sage grouse do," said Kelly Fuller, energy and mining campaign director for Western Watersheds Project. "BLM should remove the sage grouse habitat from leasing permanently to protect seasonal habitats and migration corridors so the wildlife that rely on those public lands can survive."
The preliminary injunction is part of a broader lawsuit challenging BLM's federal oil and gas leasing practices across five western states and covering almost 2 million acres of greater sage-grouse habitat.
On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management in Utah published its lease/sale notice for December that removed all the lease parcels that include the sage grouse habitat but offers 150,000 acres for potential leasing.
Environmental groups challenged BLM actions involving the greater sage grouse and potential oil and gas drilling because the imperiled Western bird has lost approximately 95 percent of its population and nearly half of its habitat.
In addition to urban encroachment and wildfires, other threats to the bird include oil and gas activity.
The deferred parcels could be offered at a subsequent auction in March, but would be subject to another round of public review.