TRCP Sues Interior Department over Wyoming Drilling Plans

Sportsmen’s group cites multiple violations of federal law after BLM approves thousands of new wells in undeveloped, wildlife-rich region

 WASHINGTON – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court against the Department of the Interior for its mishandling of a process that cleared the way for rapidly accelerated energy development on public land in south-central Wyoming.

Specifically, the TRCP is protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s authorization of 2,000 new oil and gas wells, along with 1,000 miles of road and 1,000 miles of pipeline, in an area known as the Atlantic Rim.

Under the recent BLM action, energy development would come despite the federal government’s admission that “the natural setting would be converted to an industrialized setting by development” for multiple generations and that “implementation of the [project] would have adverse impact to suitable habitat for many wildlife species,” including iconic big game species such as mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. (See Final Environmental Impact Statement, Atlantic Rim Project Area.)

The TRCP contends that the BLM is addressing neither the needs of sportsmen nor the fish and wildlife that populate the Atlantic Rim. The area is primarily used for hunting, wildlife viewing, grazing and pleasure driving – all activities that will be diminished by development.

The TRCP suit states that BLM has failed to fulfill its obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act and has committed numerous violations. Among those violations are BLM failures to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives to intensive development, including a more measured approach that would allow development to proceed while maintaining fish and wildlife populations.

The approved plan allows for maximized development with no assurances for fish and wildlife for the future. The BLM also failed to define how losses in fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation will be mitigated if development proceeds as planned.

The TRCP further asserts that the BLM failed to properly analyze the cumulative impacts of both the project and nearby expanded development. It also points out that the agency ignored new scientific data and recent experiences in other well fields concerning the effects of energy development on populations of mule deer and sage grouse.

Additionally, the suit contends that BLM violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which requires the agency to balance the concerns of the many users of America’s public lands and to assure long-term sustainability of non-mineral resources.

“In these actions, we see a federal agency acting on behalf of only one user group, the energy industry,” said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda. “BLM is not fulfilling the multiple-use mandate it is legally obligated to follow. The time has come to hold the agency accountable.”

“This suit is a major step for our organization and not one that we took lightly,” said TRCP President and CEO George Cooper. “We reached this point only after years of exhausting every other avenue, including direct contacts in Washington and in the field and formal administrative appeals. But we at the TRCP strongly believe that, in the case of the Atlantic Rim, the evidence speaks for itself. And that evidence compels us to pursue all remedies available under the law. America’s sportsmen deserve as much.”

“Based on wildlife losses due to energy development experienced elsewhere, such as those near Pinedale, Wyoming, TRCP contends that BLM must establish pre-project commitments to exactly how fish and wildlife will be sustained during development,” said Belinda. “The Atlantic Rim decision offers no such assurance, and the deliberate conversion of this important area for wildlife to an industrialized, single use is unacceptable.”

“The federal government must honor its commitments to protect fish and wildlife resources and the hunting and fishing opportunities they support,” said Dr. Rollin Sparrowe, a Wyoming resident and founding board member of TRCP. “We know development can be conducted in a manner that balances fish and wildlife needs with resource extraction – the Atlantic Rim plan makes no attempt to achieve such balance.

“TRCP is committed to working in the interests of sportsmen to ensure that energy development does not displace their great American tradition,” continued Sparrowe. “In this instance, TRCP maintains that American sportsmen will be best served by conservation of this region’s important habitats, and we stand ready to work with the BLM in designing a rational approach to energy development in the Atlantic Rim.”

Dwayne Meadows, who manages TRCP’s field work in Wyoming and has lived most of his life in the Atlantic Rim area, points out, “This is a place where sportsmen from around the West and across the country come to fulfill hunting and fishing dreams on public land. Interior’s development plan would needlessly shut down this piece of publicly accessible sportsmen’s paradise.”

The TRCP’s namesake, Theodore Roosevelt, stated in 1910, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

The balance of which Roosevelt spoke can be achieved through the application of the conservation tenets outlined in the TRCP 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.