Sportsmen’s group wants leasing postponed until federal management plans are complete

WASHINGTON – Concerns about oil and gas development in valuable wildlife habitat compelled the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to protest an upcoming Bureau of Land Management mineral lease sale in Utah, the sportsmen’s group announced today. Encompassing approximately 7,000 acres of federal public lands near Vernal, Huntington and Wellington, the TRCP protest asserts that energy development could significantly affect crucial mule deer and elk winter range and vital sage grouse habitat. Similar concerns caused the TRCP to protest a lease sale in Wyoming only days earlier; the group’s action in Utah marks its eighth protest in 2008.

The June 5 lease sale is scheduled during a period of flux in federal public-land management in Utah. Six national forests and six BLM field offices in the state are updating their land-use plans, which will dictate how the agencies address oil and gas development and determine the future of energy extraction on more than 17 million acres. The outcome of these planning processes will shape administration of public lands in Utah for decades to come.

“Sportsmen and the TRCP support responsible development of energy resources on public lands,” said Joel Webster, a TRCP field representative. “Responsible development, however, means that the BLM should plan in advance to ensure that Utah’s hunting and fishing traditions are balanced during energy extraction. The BLM must refrain from green-lighting oil and gas leasing on vital wildlife habitat until the land-use plans currently being revised are complete.

“Many of the plans being used to guide public-lands energy development are decades old,” Webster continued. “The BLM is required to base its management of our public lands on the best available information. For the agency to pursue leasing these areas now goes against its mandate and the best interests of Utah sportsmen and the general public.”

Sage grouse is among the species that could be negatively affected by energy development in the protested areas. The bird is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Recent scientific studies link energy development and declining sage grouse populations.

“In Utah, more than 7,800 new wells are expected in the Vernal and Price areas alone over the next 15 to 20 years,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “The time has come to begin planning for energy development on our public lands before we sell our mineral rights to industry. At the rate we’re leasing these areas, future generations will be left hunting and fishing in industrial zones. We have a responsibility to uphold the conservation legacy launched by sportsmen such as Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago. Our citizens – and our public lands – deserve better.”

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.