BLM Scraps Wyoming Energy Leases Following Protests

50,000-plus acres withdrawn from federal auction after TRCP, others object;
decision affects important game habitat in southwest Wyoming

WASHINGTON – In response to widespread objections and numerous official protests, including one filed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew vast tracts of prime fish and wildlife habitat from its Dec. 2 lease sale, the TRCP announced today. The federal agency abandoned plans to allow oil and gas development on more than 50,000 acres of big-game winter range and migration corridors, native trout waters and sage grouse habitat in southwest Wyoming; all of these acres were protested by the TRCP. The BLM took no action on an additional 150,000-plus acres included in the sportsmen’s protest.

The deferred leases include 16,000-plus acres in the Little Mountain region, a popular outdoor destination located east of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The proposal to open the area to additional drilling elicited sharp criticism from stakeholders, with a diverse coalition of local residents, sportsmen and conservationists advocating for the responsible development of Wyoming’s natural resources.

“Decisions being made today could catastrophically affect our ability to enjoy southwestern Wyoming’s great outdoors in the future,” said Joshua Coursey, chairman of the Muley Fanatic Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, “and the BLM made the right decision in withholding these valuable public lands from its December auction.

“Like many local residents, I have benefited economically from the presence of the energy industry in Wyoming,” continued Coursey, an active hunter who lives in Green River. “But collectively we must work to ensure that energy development proceeds in a manner that respects and protects the core values of citizens, the sporting public and the long-term needs of our fish and wildlife populations.”

The Little Mountain region is the recipient of more than $2 million in habitat restoration projects funded by federal and state agencies, including the BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and conservation groups. In July, the TRCP protested BLM plans to allow energy development on more than 6,700 acres on and around Little Mountain; these leases nevertheless were sold at auction on Aug. 5, 2008.

“While sportsmen appreciate the BLM decision to defer leasing these important areas of habitat, we’re displeased with the agency’s erratic approach to public-lands energy development overall,” said Dwayne Meadows, a TRCP field representative who lives in Laramie. “Why did it take a public outcry of these dimensions – including protests filed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Sweetwater County board of commissioners – for the federal government to withdraw these leases? The BLM is required to manage our public lands for a range of uses, and that’s not what’s happening in southwestern Wyoming.”

In addition to deferring the Little Mountain parcels, the BLM decision withdrew leases on more than 34,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat near Kemmerer, Wyo., until a revised resource management plan is finalized.

“The TRCP agrees unequivocally that management plans should be finalized before energy leases are issued to develop the public’s resources,” continued Meadows, “yet the BLM itself has failed to adhere to this practice consistently across the Rocky Mountain West. It confirms that we’re dealing with a system that is fatally flawed, if not broken.”

Not including its December sale, the BLM has leased more than 1 million acres of federal public lands in Wyoming for oil and gas development in 2008. Over the past decade, rights to more than 12 million acres of public lands in Wyoming have been sold to the energy industry.

“At the end of the day,” concluded Meadows, “this is just one victory in an ongoing conflict over balanced management of our nation’s natural resources. And it begs an important question: Do we care about short-term dollars for our pockets – or long-term planning for the lands that we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren to enjoy?”

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.