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WASHINGTON – As a new administration takes office in Washington, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has expressed dissatisfaction with federal energy development policies in the Rocky Mountain West by protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to open oil and gas development on valuable fish and wildlife habitat in Wyoming. The sportsmen’s group also called on America’s new leaders to prioritize review and revision of the current mineral leasing process and management of the nation’s public lands.

Of the approximately 173,000 acres comprising the Feb. 3 sale in Wyoming, the TRCP protest encompasses more than 88,000 where energy development as proposed could directly affect crucial big-game winter range, big-game migration routes and vital sage grouse habitat. Roughly 32,000 of the protested acres overlap with sage grouse “core population areas” identified by the state of Wyoming and endorsed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as important in maintaining and enhancing populations of the bird, which presently is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In its protest, the TRCP notes that some of the resource management plans governing the areas offered for lease are currently being revised to incorporate recent scientific information and asserts that a decision to issue these leases should be postponed until the plans’ completion. The BLM’s readiness to allow development before finalizing such plans has been cited by the TRCP in past protests. In December, following objections by the sportsmen’s group, the BLM withdrew thousands of acres from energy lease sales in Wyoming and Utah until environmental planning processes were completed.

“The need to finalize management plans prior to allowing drilling for oil and gas should be obvious,” said Dwayne Meadows, a TRCP field representative based in Laramie. “The BLM’s consistent willingness to ignore this step gives one cause to wonder. Is the federal government deliberately attempting to sell leases to the public’s lands without proper review, or is it simply following an ingrained pattern of carelessness in offering them to begin with? One fact remains clear: The policy and process used to lease our federal minerals are fundamentally compromised. Sportsmen look to the new administration for its oversight in remedying them, posthaste.”

Administrative protests such as this one filed by the TRCP are the public’s only recourse for objecting to the federal leasing process and raising concerns about impacts to resources like fish and wildlife. In 2007 and 2008, the TRCP protested approximately 2.5 million acres of energy leases in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming after concluding that fish and wildlife resources or hunting and fishing could be significantly affected if the areas were developed as proposed. (Approximately 4 million acres total were offered for lease during this time.) The TRCP reviewed each proposed lease for management actions or protections for fish and wildlife and protested only those leases that, based on this analysis, could not be managed to sustain these resources during development.

BLM responses to the TRCP’s protests ranged from removing protested parcels and cancelling lease sales – following TRCP objections, the agency withdrew more than a half-million acres from sale and outright cancelled two sales in Montana and Utah – to ignoring the sportsmen’s concerns. In 2007 and 2008 alone, the BLM proceeded to lease approximately 3.4 million acres in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming for development. More than 47 million acres of federal public lands are currently leased to the energy industry. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office stated that only 6 percent of all federal leases ultimately are developed and only 3 percent of those ever produce payable quantities of oil and gas.

“The TRCP, reflecting the priorities of a majority of sportsmen, supports the responsible cultivation of America’s energy reserves,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “Yet energy development on our public lands has become troublingly one-sided, with demands by energy companies frequently superseding the needs of fish and wildlife and the interests of hunters and anglers. Given the number of acres already leased and the fact that most leases are never developed, we question the continued pell-mell approach to leasing, particularly in areas of important habitat.

“The system currently in use by the federal government does not balance energy development with the needs of fish and wildlife populations and our hunting and angling traditions,” continued Belinda, a former federal biologist. “Sportsmen ask our country’s new leaders to use this Wyoming lease sale as a springboard for reviewing and restructuring our country’s energy development policy – and for reaffirming the federal mandate of multiple-use management of our public lands.”

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.