New Maps Show Interior Department is Overtaking Sage-Grouse Habitat with Oil and Gas Leasing Sales

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Protections safeguarding the greater sage-grouse habitat across the western United States are still currently in place, and yet 76 percent of the Bureau of Land Management’s upcoming and newly offered oil and gas leasing on public lands occurs inside protected habitat across Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, according to new mapping.

The map and accompanying data table use information from the BLM’s lease sale page and the agency’s Landscape Approach Data Portal to show leasing in grouse habitat by state, including calculations about how much of each sale is in habitat. Notably, the 2015 sage-grouse plans incorporate varying level of protections for all sage-grouse habitat and tell BLM to prioritize leasing outside of habitat.

According to the new mapping, nearly all -- 99.9 percent -- of the 1.3 million acres being offered for oil and gas leases in upcoming sales in Wyoming intersects with sage-grouse habitat on public lands in the state.

In Utah, 47.9 percent of the leases offered are in existing sage-grouse habitat and 10.3 percent of the leases that will be offered in an upcoming sale intersect with the bird’s habitat. In Colorado, 50.8 percent of oil and gas leases offered this month intersects with, while 35.3 percent of leases offered in Nevada intersects with protected habitat. A lease sale in Montana that was temporarily deferred had 98,941 acres in habitat and a lease sale that was withdrawn in Idaho had 840 acres in habitat.

While the leasing violates the spirit and the letter of the current federal plans, the proposed leasing will also hamstring the states’ ability to provide input into the ongoing planning process, even though the Interior Department has said the reason it is overhauling the landmark conservation plans is to give states more of a say. Leasing the federal lands will also increase the burden on states to protect habitat on state and private lands.

“These plans are still on the books and commit the Bureau of Land Management to focus leasing outside sage-grouse habitat, but the agency seems to be taking the opposite approach and leasing everywhere inside sage-grouse habitat. These proposed leases risk the survival of the habitat and its species and take away decision space for the states and BLM as to how to manage for the bird while they are supposed to be engaged in a meaningful planning process,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. 

“You couldn’t make these lease sales worse for sage-grouse if you tried. These maps make clear that the Department of the Interior is moving full steam ahead to undo sage-grouse conservation commitments, blatantly ignoring common-sense safeguards and allowing drilling in some of the bird’s most important habitat in Wyoming and big swaths of it in other states. Westerners didn’t sign on for the elimination of sage-grouse or more than 350 other species that depend on the sagebrush. They made a deal to save the bird, its habitat and the local economies in sagebrush country. They simply want Interior to honor the deal, “said Brian Rutledge, director of the National Audubon Society’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative.

“The most practical way to have both responsible drilling and sage-grouse conservation is to drill where the bird isn’t. The sage-grouse conservation plans made that commitment, yet the Department of Interior is charging forward and ignoring it in big swaths of the West,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for public lands. “Westerners made a deal with Interior in good faith to avoid the need to list sage-grouse and to save a landscape and a way of life. However, Interior is not honoring its deal.”

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