TRCP Advances Suit against BLM over Wyoming Energy Project

TRCP Advances Suit against BLM over Wyoming Energy Project
Sportsmen’s group takes next step in action to hold BLM accountable for commitments made regarding management of fish and wildlife resources on the Pinedale Anticline.

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

WASHINGTON –-( The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today took an aggressive step forward in holding the federal government accountable for management commitments it made on a southwestern Wyoming energy project by filing a legal brief in a suit against the Department of the Interior. The sportsmen’s group asserts that the Bureau of Land Management has mishandled adaptive management on the Pinedale Anticline natural gas development project. The TRCP initially filed its lawsuit because the BLM formally adopted and then abandoned adaptive management plans intended to protect a host of species.

At issue in the TRCP suit are commitments made by the BLM to sustain the region’s natural resources through an “adaptive environmental management” process in its authorization in 2000 and a supplemental authorization in 2008 for the Pinedale Anticline project area, which encompasses approximately 200,000 acres of the Green River Basin in Sublette County, Wyo. The project authorized development in a region that supports substantial numbers of sage-grouse and contains crucial winter range for one of the state’s largest mule deer populations. The latter has declined by 30 percent in the project area since development began. These species and other game in the region offer some of Wyoming’s best hunting and fishing opportunities; hunting seasons and recreational use have been reduced due to the impacts from development.

“This lawsuit upholds the interests of sportsmen in Wyoming and across the country,” said Dr. Rollin Sparrowe, a former federal biologist and lifelong hunter who lives near the project site. “Development in the Pinedale Anticline has proceeded without checks that the adaptive management process was intended to provide. Big-game and upland bird populations are suffering, and hunting opportunities are declining. The TRCP supports responsible public-lands energy development that is pursued in accordance with federal law and ensures citizens’ continued ability to access our shared lands and natural resources. Our inaction in Pinedale would allow the ongoing mismanagement of Western lands and the elimination of America’s dearly held outdoor traditions.

“From the project’s beginnings in 2000, the BLM committed itself and industry to processes that it concluded were essential to safeguarding fish and wildlife during development of the Pinedale Anticline,” continued Sparrowe, a TRCP board member and past leader of the Pinedale Anticline Working Group Wildlife Task Group. “The BLM subsequently failed to uphold those commitments and contracts with the American public. But instead of acknowledging the fact, the agency redesigned the project in 2008 and authorized expanded development, forging ahead as though initial commitments never were made and lessening the role of the public in the development of these public lands. This is unacceptable and goes against federal law. The government must be held accountable for promises it makes to the American people.”

The BLM’s failure to implement the adaptive environmental management process began in 2000. The current administration, however, has not yet corrected fundamental problems identified by the TRCP in its suit, which contends that the BLM disregard of this process violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, laws intended to assure responsible management of federal public lands. The suit also states that BLM decisions regarding development in the Pinedale Anticline consistently ignored current science regarding the impacts of energy development on populations of mule deer and sage-grouse.

“Under the 2000 project plan, a body of science was collected for the benefit of wildlife populations but never was employed – neither at that time nor in the 2008 plan,” said TRCP Senior Vice President Tom Franklin. “This decision by the federal government perpetrated a whole host of failed policies to the detriment of wildlife, with the few policies that might have been effective if implemented being dismissed.

“In essence, the BLM ignored peer-reviewed, current science, and its decisions resulted in huge profits for industry – at the public’s expense,” Franklin continued. “Our shared fish and wildlife resources were sold, at great cost to American citizens and our collective outdoor heritage.”

The TRCP initiated its case against the Department of the Interior in U.S. District Court in June 2008, supplementing its complaint in Oct. 2008 to reflect additional claims arising from a new record of decision issued in Sept. 2008. Under the 2008 plan, the modest protections afforded wildlife are undercut by permanent, widespread exceptions to seasonal development restrictions. As demonstrated in the established case record, the limited mitigation measures offered by energy companies cannot effectively alleviate the environmental damage resulting from the increased development.

Oral arguments in the case are expected to commence in spring 2010. The TRCP also is actively pursuing conversations with the Department of the Interior about resolving the case.

The TRCP and its partners believe 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 and the CAST principles.

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.