We have mixed feelings about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to require federal agencies to review two-year-old plans to protect sage grouse across the West, including in Baker County and other parts of Eastern Oregon.

On the one hand, we don’t object to taking a fresh look at plans that affect a variety of activities on public land, including livestock grazing, a vital part of Baker County’s economy. It’s hardly implausible to believe that the conservation plans can be improved.

But on the other hand, we wonder whether that possibility is worth upsetting the status quo. The current situation might not be ideal from the perspective of some ranchers. But we don’t believe any would dispute that the 2015 conservation plans, which were approved in lieu of the sage grouse being listed as a threatened or endangered species, were a preferable option.

Our ambivalence reflects the reactions of two members of Oregon’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican, applauded Zinke’s decision, saying the Interior Secretary “wants to involve and listen to local input.”

But Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden contends Zinke is “ignoring the input of local stakeholders who spent years working to avoid a damaging Endangered Species Act listing.”

Our chief concern is that the review could lead to changes in conservation plans that conservation groups and others who think sage grouse need federal protection can use to bolster their legal case.

Which is to say that this decision could backfire, and make an ESA listing more likely rather than less. And in Baker County, where the sage grouse population has declined by about 73 percent over the past decade, that’s a frightening prospect indeed.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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