Three different federal agencies are among those opposed to a BLM plan to lease 3,500 acres of public land for a coal mine near Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. Federal biologists say the proposed mine could wipe out the nation’s southernmost population of sage grouse, a gamebird facing survival challenges in other parts of its range as well.

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Federal biologists say a strip mine at the backdoor to Utah’s storybook Bryce Canyon National Park will wipe out the southernmost population of sage grouse, even as their agency resists a broader effort to protect the bird across the West. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is among three federal agencies that have registered opposition to the lease of 3,500 acres of public range land sought by a coal mine that got its start on 440 acres of private land.

_The mining is under way about a dozen miles from a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park, a high plateau of southern Utah prized for its clean air, wildlife and sparking night skies. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has set the stage for a group of Florida investors known as Alton Coal Development LLC to expand onto the surrounding public range lands. The BLM tentatively approved a lease sale open to all bidders last fall. The project’s draft environmental study has drawn opposition in recent weeks from the Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While the Fish & Wildlife Service doesn’t have the staff or money to seek broader protections for the sage grouse, “our goal is to protect existing populations,” said Amy Defreese, an agency ecologist based in Salt Lake City. Officials said other candidate species rank higher for protection. That position was upheld Friday by a federal judge who dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmental groups seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the ground-foraging bird._