BLM Takes Step Backward on Utah Energy Leasing
Decision to open 4.7 million acres of public lands to development with minimal planning prompts criticism by sportsmen’s groups.
SALT LAKE CITY – A move by the Utah Bureau of Land Management to forgo comprehensive environmental analysis in its management of energy development on 4.7 million acres of federal public lands overseen by the agency’s Fillmore Field Office was criticized in a letter to Utah BLM Director Selma Sierra by numerous state and national sportsmen’s organizations, Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development announced today.
The public lands encompassed by the Fillmore Field Office – the largest BLM field office in the state – include the Deep Creek Mountains in western Utah, home to mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. The agency’s decision to conduct a bare-bones environmental assessment, or EA, in place of a more detailed environmental impact statement, or EIS, in determining the course of future energy projects could jeopardize sensitive habitat and species that depend on it, the letter charges. Signatories include the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Federation of Fly Fishers, Mule Deer Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Utah Council of Trout Unlimited. Most of the letter’s supporters are members of the SFRED coalition.
“These public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and sporting opportunities,” said Bob Dibblee, chairman of Utah TU. “Too much is at stake to simply conduct a quick assessment and then rubber-stamp approval of a lease sale in this area. Populations of native Bonneville cutthroat trout in the Deep Creek Mountains are hanging by a thread. Rushing into leases in the region could be what snaps that last thread.”
In addition to valuable fisheries, Utah’s Fillmore Field Office comprises some of the state’s most coveted hunting units. Hunters from both Utah and out of state travel to the area to pursue deer and elk, and sportsmen’s groups assert that energy development must be properly planned if these sporting traditions are to continue.
“The BLM isn’t even maintaining the status quo in regards to planning before leasing on these 4.7 million acres,” said John Gale, a NWF regional representative. “Six other field offices in the state of Utah recently conducted environmental impact statements for oil and gas leasing, yet the Fillmore office is using an analysis that falls way short of the norm. A number of limited big-game hunting units could be at risk if the BLM doesn’t change course now and undertake the proper analysis.”
In late 2008, the BLM offered leases in the Fillmore Field Office and then deferred them in order to complete analysis only after sportsmen’s groups underscored the necessity of adequately assessing the impacts to fish, wildlife and sporting resources.
“The potential impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on the 4.7 million acres managed by the Fillmore office are of a magnitude and scale that inhibits and EA,” the letter continues. “While we recognize that the size of an area is not the sole factor that necessitates an EIS, we do believe that the outcomes of such decisions could significantly affect the management of fish, wildlife, water and recreational resources, thereby meeting the significance requirement that triggers an EIS.”
Don Duff, a retired fisheries biologist and BLM biologist who, nearly 35 years ago, identified isolated populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout in the Deep Creek Mountains and negotiated important agreements with landowners and the Goshute Tribe to restore native trout to the region’s waterways, said the EA findings are inconsistent with the fish and game resources on the ground.
“Deferring these leases in December represents a step forward,” said Duff, a volunteer with TU. “Not completing an EIS would take two steps back. Based on my knowledge of the fisheries resources in the proposed lease area, the FONSI response is just not credible. Proceeding without a full EIS makes no sense – it’s standard procedure throughout the state, both by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. The BLM should do the right thing on behalf of the fish and game in these mountains and, of course, the hunters and anglers who come to the Deeps every year.”
On Feb. 4, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced the withdrawal of 77 parcels offered in the Dec. 19 sale, which was dogged by controversy due to the sensitive nature of the areas to be leased.
“Overall, American sportsmen support public-lands energy development that is pursued in consideration of current science and the habitat needs of fish and wildlife,” said Joel Webster, a TRCP field representative. “This isn’t a case of having to decide between drilling or not drilling. This is about making sure that the BLM meets its obligation to hunters and anglers by properly evaluating and planning oil and gas leasing in a way that safeguards fish, wildlife and sportsmen’s values.”
Learn more about SFRED.