WASHINGTON – Concern for valuable hunting and fishing areas and the species that inhabit them drove the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s upcoming Utah energy lease sale. The conservation group’s Feb. 4 protest covers 44 parcels encompassing 74,000 acres that currently are scheduled for auction on Feb. 19.
“We believe the BLM has failed to conduct the necessary planning to conserve important mule deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse and trout habitat,” said Joel Webster, a TRCP field representative. “Game and fish populations on these incredible Utah public lands would be seriously compromised by energy development as currently proposed.
“We’re not saying that development cannot take place,” Webster noted. “We are saying that development must be planned carefully, before the lands are leased to industry. Fundamentally, if sportsmen are going to be able to continue hunting and fishing here, the needs of fish and wildlife must be addressed beforehand. Leasing these lands without a good plan for species conservation is not the way to move forward on the public lands that all Americans share.”
The TRCP protest includes 42,000 acres along Utah’s Bear River and three of its tributaries near where the famous trout stream flows into Bear Lake. Also protested are 11,000 acres along the Sevier River trout fishery in southern Utah.
“World-class fisheries are at stake here and can be maintained if we pursue energy development responsibly,” said William Geer, a TRCP policy initiative manager and former director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “Common-sense planning with some constraints can permit development to proceed while this resource is conserved. We really can have our cake – in this case, access to the energy resource – and eat it, too, but we also must acknowledge that in some places energy development cannot coexist with fish, wildlife and hunting and fishing.”
Another high-profile area proposed for lease is 1,800 acres of prime sage grouse, mule deer and elk habitat located near the Ouray Wildlife Refuge, a major migratory bird stopover point south of Vernal. The sage grouse is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), following a decision by the U.S. District Court in Idaho to remand the decision back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its 2004 “not warranted” listing decision. Recent research on the impacts of energy development to sage grouse show that the current approach to development is detrimental to sustaining the birds in developed areas. A threatened or endangered listing would impact hunters first and foremost because of the possibility of the elimination or restriction of hunting opportunities.
“The BLM is required to use the best available science to guide management decisions,” said Steve Belinda, energy initiative manager for the TRCP. “Current science demonstrates that practices in use by the BLM right now are damaging sage grouse habitat – and could lead to protection for the species under the ESA. Now is the time for the agency to slow down, take a step back and engage in comprehensive planning so that energy development can continue without further decline to sage grouse.”
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.