Colorado Energy Leases in Critical Habitat Draw Protests

TRCP objects to proposed oil and gas drilling in native trout, mule deer, sage grouse habitat, urges revision of federal mineral leasing process on public lands

WASHINGTON – Spurred by concerns over the effects of energy development on valuable fish and wildlife habitat, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today filed an official protest of an upcoming Bureau of Land Management lease sale in Colorado. The sportsmen’s group objected to approximately 83,000 of the nearly 100,000 acres being offered in the Feb. 12 sale, which includes vital sage grouse habitat, big-game winter range and migration routes, and Colorado River cutthroat trout waters.

The TRCP protest of the Colorado leases follows the group’s objection, filed on Jan. 20, to Wyoming leases offered by the BLM in areas of wildlife habitat important to hunters and anglers. Protests like these are the only means for the public to participate in the leasing process. The TRCP has urged the incoming administration to prioritize review and revision of federal mineral leasing practices and management of the nation’s public lands.

Close to 60,000 of the protested acres are located within Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat, where energy development could degrade key waterways and result in this native fish’s further decline. Initially petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1999, the Colorado River cutthroat twice received a “not warranted” decision regarding its threatened or endangered status, yet it was designated a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Forest Service and is subject to special state-level management guidelines. By leasing areas of designated habitat for the species, the BLM would violate a multi-agency conservation agreement pledging to “expedite implementation of conservation measures for Colorado River cutthroat trout.”

“A threatened or endangered listing for Colorado River cutthroat trout would give rise to an entirely new set of problems,” said TRCP Field Representative Ross Tuckwiller, “particularly for anglers and businesses that depend on them.

“The loss of a fishery to anglers could hurt communities that depend on sportsmen’s revenue and an industry that provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to support fisheries management – not to mention to the funds that state game agencies receive through angler licenses and fees,” continued Tuckwiller, who lives in Durango.

Mule deer habitat also was a factor in the TRCP’s decision to protest. Proposed leases encompass winter range and migration routes, habitat that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has specified as “vital” to the species’ survival and that, in the case of migration routes, was identified by the Western Governors Association as important in maintaining “significant, reliable wildlife populations.” Recent scientific studies demonstrate that energy projects established near migration routes can result in population declines in species such as mule deer.

“Sportsmen’s memories are not so short that they could forget about last spring, when the Colorado Division of Wildlife was forced to commence emergency feeding for mule deer in crucial winter range near Gunnison,” said TRCP Field Representative Dwayne Meadows. “Sportsmen agree that public-lands energy resources can be developed responsibly, but we maintain that certain habitats – such as big-game winter range and migration routes – should be better conserved to avoid unnecessary population losses.”

The TRCP protest follows the BLM’s decision to defer more than 16,000 acres originally slated for inclusion in the sale after local residents and La Plata County criticized specific leases in western Colorado and the timetable for their sale to industry.

“The fact that citizens are worried about the impacts that energy development could have on the value of their homes, their water quality and the public lands that form their backyards should surprise no one,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “Apparently, however, this is a revelation to the Bureau of Land Management, whose disregard of the interests of the American public is cause for alarm.

“This lease sale forms the latest in a string of questionable decisions by the agency regarding its administration of our shared natural resources,” concluded Belinda, “and it reinforces our belief that America’s new leaders must prioritize review and revision of the mineral leasing process governing our public lands.”

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.