WASHINGTON – Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of more than 350 businesses, groups and individuals working to balance energy development and conservation in the West, today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar thanking him for his recent comments before the U.S. Senate in support of responsible energy development. The coalition also urged the secretary to undertake review and revision of federal laws, regulations and policies governing public-lands oil and gas development and offered its support in resolving conflicts between these policies and fish and wildlife habitat and sporting traditions.

In its letter, the SFRED coalition cited two upcoming energy lease sales that exemplify problems in the current federal approach. On Feb. 3, the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management intends to sell development rights to 173,000 acres of federal lands, and on Feb. 12, the Colorado BLM could offer rights to 99,000 acres. Close to 150,000 acres of the Wyoming and Colorado leases contain critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including sage grouse habitat, Colorado River cutthroat trout waters, big-game migration corridors and crucial big-game winter range. The areas also provide opportunities for American sportsmen, whose presence helps strengthen rural economies and supplies stable jobs associated with hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

“These two lease sales present an opportunity for the Department of the Interior to take a hard look at its current mineral leasing policies and implement changes,” said Kate Zimmerman, senior land stewardship policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Sportsmen encourage Secretary Salazar and his staff to evaluate both the sales themselves and the department’s overall leasing process before the sales are allowed to proceed.”

Members of the SFRED coalition already have formally protested the Wyoming sale and are deliberating whether to follow suit in the Colorado sale. Administrative protests such as these are the public’s only recourse for objecting to the federal leasing process and raising concerns about impacts to resources like fish and wildlife.

“Sportsmen have little confidence that these important public lands and the fish and wildlife resources they support can be sustained, given the present model and approach used by the BLM to manage the lands post leasing,” said Brad Powell, Trout Unlimited’s Western energy coordinator. “Unacceptable losses could result if the leases are issued as currently proposed.”

Over the past eight years, more than 26 million acres of federal public lands in the Intermountain West have been leased for oil and gas development. The accelerating pace of federal leasing gave rise to growing concerns of sportsmen and others that energy projects were not being planned in consideration of other natural resources and other public-lands uses. The SFRED coalition has formulated a series of recommendations concerning the laws, regulations and policies governing public-lands oil and gas development, offering a blueprint for improving the federal approach that can be achieved both administratively and legislatively.

“One of the SFRED’s primary recommendations entails reaffirmation, in policy and actions, of the multiple-use management of public lands to sustain fish, wildlife and water resources during energy development by addressing deficiencies in the federal leasing process,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “The cultivation of public-lands energy reserves is important to our nation, but poorly planned and potentially damaging development proposals do little to achieve this objective.

“Conflicts between fish and wildlife and our sporting heritage can be minimized,” concluded Belinda, a former federal biologist. “But this new approach must start in Washington, and it must start now.”