Sportsmen Protest Energy Leases

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today filed a formal protest of leases on energy leases on important fish and wildlife habitat in Utah, where a Bureau of Land Management lease sale has drawn unprecedented scrutiny. The TRCP action comprises approximately 188,000 acres of the Dec. 19 sale and includes vast areas of big-game habitat, crucial mule deer winter range, vital sage grouse habitat and native trout streams. The proposed sale has been marked by controversy for months, with a range of diverse interests roundly criticizing BLM plans to allow drilling on lands bordering wilderness areas and national parks.

Overall, the Utah sale could open development on 276,000-plus acres – or more than 430 square miles – of federal public lands. In addition to energy projects in popular hunting units in Utah’s Book Cliffs and Nine Mile Canyon, the December sale would allow drilling in prime fish and wildlife habitat in the Deep Creek Mountains near the Nevada border – the same area the TRCP successfully petitioned the BLM to defer from energy development in August 2007.

“The TRCP protested the sale of these parcels in 2007 because the BLM based its decision to offer them on a land-use plan that’s 20 years out of date,” said Joel Webster, a TRCP field representative. “Sportsmen had reason to celebrate when the agency subsequently acknowledged its mistake and withdrew those leases from auction – but we also hoped that the BLM would develop a plan for their management that balanced development with fish and wildlife.

“Now, however, the BLM is trying to ram through this sale before the end of the current administration,” Webster continued. “The American people deserve better management of our natural resources than a federal agency’s reliance on obsolete planning documents that could diminish public-lands hunting and fishing.”

While the BLM currently is conducting an environmental assessment of development around the Deep Creek Mountains, including its effects on the area’s exceptional habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout, mule deer, elk and sage grouse, the timetable for both completing the assessment and the sale itself leaves minimal opportunity for analysis and review of public comments.
“The public had until Dec. 4 to offer input on the future management of the Deep Creek area,” said Webster. “How can comments from sportsmen and other concerned individuals receive adequate review when the BLM intends to lease these areas only days later?

“If oil and gas development is to be permitted in prime fish and wildlife habitat,” Webster stated, “the federal government first must ensure that game populations will be sustained, along with our hunting and fishing traditions. Accordingly, the BLM should draft an environmental impact statement so that this balance can be achieved in the Deep Creek Mountains.”

“By rushing to lease hundreds of square miles of public lands to the energy industry without adequate planning, the federal government belies its claim to support responsible development and the multiple-use management of these areas,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “The oil and gas isn’t going anywhere, and it still will be there when the necessary upfront planning is complete. The current model used for developing our public-lands energy resources does not work for fish and wildlife. Our failure to assure the future of our shared natural resources ultimately will result in a loss – not only to hunters and anglers in Utah, but to sportsmen across the country.”

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.