TRCP Leads Protests Against Wyoming Energy Leases

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As the Bureau of Land Management advances plans to lease important fish and wildlife habitat in Wyoming, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and others have responded with protests amidst concerns that energy development as proposed could negatively affect sporting opportunities in areas that include Little Mountain, a popular outdoor destination. The TRCP action comprises more than 210,000 acres of the nearly 250,000 acres offered in the Dec. 2 sale.

Approximately 18,000 acres of the Little Mountain region are slated for lease to the energy industry in the December 2008 sale and are included in the TRCP protest. In July, the TRCP protested BLM plans to allow energy development on more than 6,700 acres on and around Little Mountain. Despite widespread criticism, these leases were sold at auction on Aug. 5, 2008.

Located east of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwest Wyoming, the Little Mountain region supports abundant and diverse game populations and fisheries, unique opportunities for both resident and out-of-state sportsmen and a growing tourism industry. The region is the recipient of more than $2 million in habitat restoration projects funded by federal and state agencies, including the BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and conservation groups.

"We've spent a lot of money on Little Mountain to support a very unique ecosystem," said Monte Morlock, avid sportsman and president of Steelworkers Local No. 13214, which is advocating responsible management of the Little Mountain region. "Sportsmen aren't against development - far from it, as the energy industry provides a lot of us with our livelihoods - but this part of southwestern Wyoming is one of those special places that should be set aside for the public's enjoyment."

Energy development can have far-reaching effects on habitat use and survival of numerous fish and wildlife species. Encompassed in the TRCP protest are areas identified by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as crucial range for elk, mule deer and pronghorn, as well as vital habitat for sage grouse, which currently is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

"The public has united against further leasing and energy development in the Little Mountain region," said TRCP Field Representative and Laramie resident Dwayne Meadows. "The BLM decision to sell off these lands - without a plan to balance the needs of fish and wildlife with energy development - neglects the agency's responsibility to manage the public's resources for a range of user interests, including those of the American people. We often hear that the BLM cannot do anything for fish and wildlife once energy leases are issued, so why would we sell these leases without a plan addressing the needs of the region's hunters and anglers?

"Oil and gas projects on and around Little Mountain could significantly reduce big-game security, increase vulnerability and decrease the numbers of trophy-size elk," continued Meadows, who grew up hunting and fishing in southern Wyoming. "Our outdoors-dependent economy would suffer along with fish, wildlife and sportsmen."

So far in 2008, the BLM has leased more than 1 million acres of federal public lands in Wyoming for oil and gas development. If the December sale proceeds as planned, that total would jump to 1.25 million acres. Over the past decade, development rights to more than 12 million acres of public lands in Wyoming have been sold to the energy industry.

"Put simply, Little Mountain is the backyard of southwestern Wyoming," said Walt Gasson, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, a group that also protested the Little Mountain leases. "Energy development as proposed could transform this area into an industrial zone - and destroy outdoor traditions enjoyed by generations of Wyoming families."

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.

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.