Fillmore oil and gas analysis temporarily removes important habitat from development; some species of fish and game remain vulnerable
WASHINGTON – A decision by the Utah Bureau of Land Management to temporarily defer valuable sage grouse and trout habitat from energy development on public lands overseen by the agency’s Fillmore Field Office was lauded by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development; however, the sportsmen’s coalition voiced concerns over crucial big-game habitat that remains open to drilling without improved stipulations.
Released on Monday, the environmental assessment for oil and gas leasing in the Fillmore region excludes energy leasing in sage grouse habitat and historic and current Bonneville cutthroat trout habitat until a resource management plan can be completed. The Fillmore Field Office oversees 4.7 million acres of federal public lands in western Utah, including the Deep Creek Mountains, home to mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. The area comprises some of the state’s most valuable fisheries and most coveted hunting units.
“We appreciate the BLM’s willingness to accommodate the needs of sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout – and consider the interests of hunters and anglers – in its assessment of the Fillmore region,” said John Gale, a regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, an SFRED coalition member. “Yet mule deer and elk habitat in the Deep Creek Mountains remains at risk without commitments by the BLM to maintain wildlife. These valuable big-game populations deserve the same level of consideration and must be addressed in a revision of the region’s resource management plan.”
The BLM’s recent announcement of its intention to forgo comprehensive environmental analysis in its plan for energy development in the Fillmore region drew criticism from the sportsmen’s coalition, which asserts that oil and gas projects in the area must be properly planned if hunting and angling activities are to continue.
“Effective stipulations still must be developed for the Fillmore region’s big-game populations – and, for that matter, for its trout and sage grouse populations – as part of a resource management plan for the area,” said Joel Webster, associate director of campaigns for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, an SFRED member. “The substance and quality of a long-term management plan will be the deciding factors in the ability of these species to endure and thrive. To that end, sportsmen remain ready and willing to work with the BLM in crafting a practical plan to sustain fish and wildlife on these public lands.”
“The fact that the Utah BLM recognizes the importance of Bonneville cutthroat trout – not only existing populations, but also historic habitat – is a positive sign, both for populations in the Deep Creek Mountains and elsewhere in Utah where the BLM and Forest Service are developing plans for how and where drilling will occur,” said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, an SFRED member. “This decision should help advance cooperative restoration efforts for this important species in the future.”
Responsible development of the Fillmore region’s energy resources has been a source of ongoing controversy. In 2008, the BLM offered leases in the Fillmore area and then deferred them in order to complete environmental analyses after sportsmen’s groups objected. Additional leases in the region have been slated for auction in the BLM’s June 23 lease sale and include thousands of acres of crucial mule deer and elk habitat.
“The BLM based its decision to offer these leases on land-use plans that are more than 20 years out of date,” continued Webster. “Sportsmen want to see these areas developed responsibly so big-game populations are conserved and hunting opportunities maintained. Ultimately, the BLM must develop a resource management plan for the Fillmore region that takes into account and mitigates the impacts of oil and gas development on fish and wildlife – and ensures that development is balanced with other resources and sustains the multiple uses of this significant landscape.”
Learn more about the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition.