WASHINGTON – Citing threats to mule deer, pronghorn and sage grouse habitat, as well as the federal government’s failure to consider recent scientific studies in their management, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership announced its formal protest of the Bureau of Land Management’s November 4 energy lease sale in Montana. The TRCP protest encompasses four parcels totaling approximately 5,200 acres in Beaverhead County, in a region widely regarded as a preeminent hunting and fishing destination where poorly managed energy development could have grievous repercussions.
Areas of habitat near or adjacent to critical big-game migration corridors in the Beaverhead National Forest are included in the sportsmen’s protest. According to research by state fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and academic institutions, energy projects and attendant development in the vicinity of migration corridors can lead to population declines in species such as mule deer.
To date, the BLM has neglected to apply stipulations to the protested parcels addressing migration needs. Once public lands are leased to the energy industry, a contractual obligation exists for the areas’ development. Specifications for development must be defined before leases are issued if the public is to ensure that fish and wildlife resources are responsibly managed.
“Not only has the state of Montana identified these parcels as significant habitat for big game, the areas are located by critical big-game migration corridors,” said William Geer, a TRCP initiative manager and former director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “Science demonstrates that migration corridors are absolutely vital to sustaining healthy game populations. The BLM must address these issues before opening the public’s lands to drilling, road building and industrial development.
“Relatively small amounts of direct habitat loss can affect species like mule deer,” continued Geer, “and these effects can be long term. We can find no evidence that the BLM has considered established science documenting the adverse impacts of energy development on big game. This action contradicts federal guidelines that the agency is legally required to follow.”
Sage grouse mating areas (“leks”), brood-rearing grounds and migration staging areas also are a factor driving the TRCP protest. Development buffers commonly employed by the BLM are shown to be largely ineffective in protecting leks and nesting success and are not supported by peer-reviewed science. Sage grouse are currently being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing under the Endangered Species Act, an action that would have unfavorable consequences for hunters. Numerous recent studies have documented the impacts of energy development on sage grouse populations and habitat.
“The swift pace of energy development in the West has prevented the BLM from managing fish and wildlife resources for enjoyment by future generations,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda, a former BLM biologist. “The TRCP supports balanced development of America’s energy resources. What we do not support is development that conflicts with the laws conserving fish and wildlife and that impedes citizens’ ability to access and use our public lands.
“Industry itself has demonstrated that our energy reserves can be developed responsibly,” concluded Belinda. “Nothing less than our cultural identity is at stake in this debate. We must resolve it for the sake of our nation’s conservation legacy.”
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.