BLM Defers Utah Lands from Drilling Following TRCP Protest

100,000-plus acres withdrawn from energy lease sale in the wake of strenuous objections by sportsmen

WASHINGTON – A decision late Friday by the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw more than 100,000 acres of controversial energy leases from its Dec. 19 sale in Utah removes valuable fish and wildlife habitat from drilling for oil and gas and closely follows a protest filed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. While commending the BLM decision, the TRCP remains critical of agency plans to lease other important federal public lands in Utah for energy development.

More than 163,000 acres of public lands still are available for lease in the Utah sale, which has elicited disapproval from a range of diverse interests. Friday’s eleventh-hour deferrals came after more than 84,000 acres were withdrawn due to objections by the National Park Service and other stakeholders. Filed on Dec. 4, the TRCP protest comprised approximately 188,000 acres of big-game habitat, crucial mule deer winter range, vital sage grouse habitat and native trout streams. Inadequate upfront planning by the federal government could enable energy development that damages this habitat and harms fish and wildlife populations.

The public lands protested by the TRCP and subsequently deferred by the BLM include thousands of acres located in and around the Deep Creek Mountains near the Nevada border; the agency cited the need to finalize environmental plans for the region as the reason for their withdrawal. The TRCP successfully petitioned the BLM to defer many of these same areas from energy development in August 2007 because environmental planning had not been completed then, either.

“The Deeps provide invaluable big-game habitat, plus elk and mule deer hunting that sportsmen can’t afford to lose,” said Joel Webster, a TRCP field representative. “The TRCP protested the sale of these parcels in 2007 because the BLM based its decision to lease them on a land-use plan that’s 20 years out of date. We’re pleased that the agency once again has deferred leasing in this area, providing the opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for their management. The TRCP supports public-lands energy development where upfront planning helps ensure that fish and wildlife habitat is conserved.”

The sportsmen’s protest also resulted in energy development being deferred on Birch Creek, likewise located in the Deep Creek Mountains. Bonneville cutthroat trout were “rediscovered” in Birch Creek in 1974, long after the species was thought to be extirpated in Utah. A number of other parcels situated on key big-game range in the Book Cliffs, in eastern Utah near Price and Vernal, remain available for lease.

“While the TRCP appreciates the BLM’s acknowledgement of its oversight, we remain concerned about other areas – specifically, parcels on the East and West Tavaputs – that the agency is moving forward to lease,” continued Webster. “The Book Cliffs provide some of the finest mule deer and elk hunting in the world, and energy development must be pursued carefully there if sportsmen hope to continue enjoying these traditions.”

“Sportsmen support the responsible development of America’s public-lands energy resources,” said TRCP Senior Vice President Tom Franklin. “We do not support thoughtless development that fails to secure the future of important fish and wildlife populations and our hunting and angling heritage.

“If the high quality of our shared natural resources is to be maintained,” concluded Franklin, “we must commit to a wholesale revision of the BLM approach to their management. Energy development must proceed only in consideration of fish and wildlife resources values, and unnecessary conflicts with these values must be avoided. Development of domestic energy reserves is important to our nation, but poorly planned and potentially damaging leases such as these in Utah do little to achieve this goal.”

The TRCP believes that to better balance the concerns of fish and wildlife in the face of accelerating energy development, federal land management agencies must follow the conservation tenets outlined in the FACTS for Fish and Wildlife.

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions
of hunting and fishing.