Colorado BLM to Lease Critical Greater-Sage Grouse Habitat

Colorado BLM to Lease Critical Greater-Sage Grouse Habitat

Also Up for Sale-Tens of Thousands of Acres of Proposed Wilderness,

From: Center for Native Ecosystems

DENVER.- Center for Native Ecosystems has filed a formal protest of the Bureau of Land Management's decision to put critical habitat for the greater-sage grouse in Jackson, Grand and Moffat Counties on the auction block for oil and gas companies.

Despite pleas from citizens, scientists, counties, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, more than 189,000 acres of key wildlife habitat is slated to be leased away for drilling in the upcoming sale.

The federal agency's Nov. 8 lease sale includes 37,652 acres of habitat identified by the Division of Wildlife as "core areas" for greater-sage grouse, areas that must remain free of oil and gas disturbance if the imperiled western bird is to avoid sliding further toward extinction.

"The Bureau of Land Management is drilling the sage grouse to extinction," said Megan Corrigan, Staff Biologist at Center for Native Ecosystems."Oil and gas drilling needs to be done right, and doing it right means protecting crucial wildlife habitat."

The sage grouse is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, a safety net for wildlife on the brink.Colorado and other western states are developing plans to protect the grouse and potentially avoid listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The push to lease these sensitive habitat areas has continued despite the concerns of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In August, the DOW notified the BLM that it felt leasing in sage-grouse habitat was inappropriate.

"I've worked hard to try and protect sage grouse habitat on my property," stated Wes McStay, a Moffat County rancher, "why can't the BLM do the same on the public's lands?"

A number of other wildlife groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Audubon and Trout Unlimited are also filing formal protests based on the potential the lease sale poses to critical wildlife and fish habitat.

The protests come at a time of increasing exasperation with the agency's unwillingness to protect wildlife across the Rocky Mountain west. Earlier this year, the BLM withdrew several parcels from two lease sales after being presented with new information on the impacts of oil and gas drilling by the Montana Department of Game and Fish In Utah, the lease sale scheduled for November was cancelled outright after the agency determined it had not properly analyzed how oil and gas drilling would impact sensitive wildlife.This cancellation was based in part on a landmark Interior Department review board ruling secured by Center for Native Ecosystems.That ruling held the Bureau of Land Management must analyze impacts to wildlife before offering oil and gas leases.

"This is about looking before leaping," said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Center for Native Ecosystems."The BLM has significant new information about sage grouse from the state and from independent scientists in Colorado, too.Instead of carefully considering this information, the Bureau of Land Management is drilling away Colorado's valuable wildlife habitat. Relying on outdated information in twenty-year old Resource Management Plans is not adequate environmental analysis, and it's certainly not sound stewardship of the natural resources the BLM is charged with protecting."

Sensitive habitat for numerous other wildlife species is at stake in the upcoming Colorado sale.In Moffat County, the BLM plans to offer leases within designated critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow, a federally protected endangered fish.The area in question, a stretch of riparian habitat along the Yampa River that is home to bald eagles, is also within a Citizen's Proposed Wilderness Area.

For greater sage-grouse, oil and gas leasing in essential habitat is a particularly acute threat. Biologists have recently found that oil and gas drilling affects sage grouse more than previously thought.Recent peer-reviewed research found that sage-grouse populations impacted by oil and gas drilling in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, declined by 82% over a five year period, in spite of use of mitigation measures nearly identical to those that will be used by BLM to attempt to prevent population declines in habitat leased for oil and gas drilling in Colorado.

Corrigan said this science should be informing the way land managers handle sage grouse habitat."Not only is the Bureau of Land Management planning to lease the most important mating and nesting habitat for the sage grouse, but they aren't even putting the kind of protective measures in place that the latest science finds are necessary to minimize the impacts of oil and gas drilling on sage-grouse," Corrigan said.

"There needs to be a balance," Pollock said."Part of striking that balance is keeping core habitat sage from drilling.After all, people don't visit Colorado to see oil and gas wells, they come to see our wildlife."