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Decisions to withdraw leases in Utah and Colorado suggests shift toward balance in public-lands energy development, return to multiple-use principles

WASHINGTON – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has commended recent federal decisions to moderate public-lands energy development in Utah and Colorado in the face of threats to natural resources. The sportsmen’s coalition reaffirmed that such actions should be pursued as part of a return to the multiple-use principles governing use of public lands.

On Feb. 4, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar withdrew proposed oil and gas leases on more than 100,000 acres of public lands in Utah in order to fully evaluate them. The secretary’s act effectively resolved the controversial sale, which had drawn criticism from a range of interests due to the areas’ valuable fish and wildlife habitat and cultural significance. The TRCP filed an official protest of the Utah sale in December due to concerns about the impacts of proposed energy development on big-game habitat, crucial mule deer winter range, vital sage grouse habitat and Bonneville cutthroat trout streams, as well as hunting and fishing opportunities on these lands.

“American sportsmen are encouraged by the new administration’s willingness to acknowledge the current conflicts over the energy leasing process – and how this process fails to consider science and the concerns of everyday citizens,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “We hope these recent actions indicate a more responsive Department of the Interior as it charts a new course for public-lands oil and gas development, and we look forward to continued strong leadership by Sec. Salazar to resolve this challenging issue.”

Yesterday, the U.S. Forest Service directed the BLM to withdraw 67,000 acres of public lands in Colorado from the auction block following objections by state and local governments, as well as conservation groups. In January, the TRCP protested approximately 83,000 of the nearly 100,000 acres offered in the Feb. 12 sale, which included sage grouse habitat, big-game winter range and migration routes, and native trout waters. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and San Miguel and La Plata counties also formally protested the potential sale.

“By no means should we cease leasing minerals altogether, as doing so is central to cultivating our domestic energy reserves,” continued Belinda, a former federal biologist. “But we must revise the system to address current deficiencies. The easily accessed oil and gas has been developed, and federal policy seems not to recognize this. This system does not work for fish and wildlife and fails to uphold the multiple-use approach mandated for public-lands management.”

Just last week, the TRCP led a consortium of prominent angling businesses and groups in opposing areas of Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat included in the February sale as part of a general critique of the overall federal approach to minerals leasing. The proposed leases did not include adequate management actions or safeguards for maintaining cutthroat trout.

“The angling community is concerned that poorly planned oil and gas projects could result in significant loss of the fisheries that rely on those areas,” said Gary Berlin, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “We are gratified by Sec. Salazar’s decision to have the BLM withdraw these problematic leases in Colorado, and we hope that the federal government continues to pursue actions that will uphold the recreational and economic benefits of responsibly managed public lands.”

“Collaboration between government agencies and among stakeholders – such as we’re seeing occur now in the resolution of the Colorado and Utah leases – signals a promising shift from the status quo,” said TRCP Senior Vice President Tom Franklin. “In the future, controversial issues like these can and should be minimized by open dialogue and careful advance planning.

“Sec. Salazar himself stated that we need a new, comprehensive energy plan for public lands,” concluded Franklin. “Hunters and anglers couldn’t agree more. While we acknowledge the challenges implicit in crafting a new approach to public-lands energy development, we also maintain that only by returning to the underlying principles of multiple use can we hope to achieve the balanced management of our resources that the federal government is charged with overseeing.”

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.