20090707_image004WASHINGTON – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today filed an official protest of more than 11,000 acres of public-lands oil and gas leases in Colorado, citing the areas’ importance to fish and wildlife populations and calling upon the Obama administration to follow through on promised reforms to the federal leasing process that would obviate the necessity of most public protests like these.

The contested leases are administered by the Bureau of Land Management and located in the North Park area of north-central Colorado in Jackson County. The TRCP protest of the May 13 sale encompasses migration routes and other prime habitat for big-game species such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, as well as priority habitat for moose, native trout tributaries and production areas for sage grouse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March announced that the sage grouse has been designated a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

“Hunters and anglers would be hard pressed to pinpoint more valuable fish and wildlife habitat than what’s located in the North Park,” said Nicholas Payne, Colorado field representative with the TRCP. “While sportsmen want to see responsible energy projects pursued on our public lands, we also want to ensure that game populations and our outdoor traditions are safeguarded throughout the planning and development process. The leases proposed in Jackson County would accomplish neither of these goals.”

The sportsmen’s group reiterated the need for the federal government to engage in more comprehensive upfront planning in important fish and wildlife habitat before green-lighting energy development. In particular, the TRCP stressed that the sale of the protested leases in Colorado should be deferred until revisions of the 26-year-old management plan for the area are finalized.

“In January, Secretary Salazar announced long-awaited reforms to the federal energy-leasing approach on our public lands,” said TRCP Energy Policy Manager Steve Belinda, “reforms that sportsmen have urged for years so that fish and wildlife resources and sporting opportunities can be sustained. We appreciated the secretary’s responsiveness to our position and look forward to the positive changes that these revised protocols will entail.

“Yet for the time being, we find ourselves left with no choice but to continue to protest individual leases because these promised changes have not been implemented,” Belinda continued. “Irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat is at risk, and leasing decisions are being based on an incomplete and outdated management plan. Sportsmen have no alternative but to object to these poorly planned Colorado leases.”

The TRCP is actively engaged in promoting a new model for energy development on public lands and waters that safeguards fish and wildlife populations and hunting and fishing traditions. The TRCP also joined the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition in a separate protest of the upcoming Colorado lease sale. Administrative protests such as these are the public’s only recourse for participating in the federal leasing process and flagging potential impacts to resources like fish and wildlife.

The TRCP and its partners believe 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 and the CAST principles .