For Immediate Release, June 26, 2014

Contact:Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894

Wyoming Plan Allows Oil Drilling in Heart of Remaining Sage Grouse Habitat

2.4 Million-acre Plan Panders to Big Oil and Gas, Ignores Science

WASHINGTON— A new land-management plan for 2.4 million acres of federal public land near Lander, Wyo., will allow oil and gas drilling in the heart of greater sage grouse habitat and protect just 4 percent of their most critical mating and nesting areas in core areas. Ironically, the plan released today was revised by the Bureau of Land Management to address needed protections for the greater sage grouse, an iconic western bird that depends on sagebrush habitat in Wyoming and throughout the American West.

“The Lander plan is exactly what greater sage grouse don’t need. Rather than protecting these birds, the BLM is handing some of their last remaining habitat over to the oil and gas industry,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “A few companies may squeeze some short-term profits out of it, but the long-term effect will be pushing these great prairie birds to the brink of extinction.”

The BLM’s Lander plan follows the much-touted “Wyoming Core Area Strategy,” which is far less than what BLM’s own scientists have said is necessary to conserve the species in their National Technical Team Report.

“The best available science is clear: Mating and nesting areas will suffer under this plan, with inadequate buffers to protect them. Clearly the protection of the Endangered Species Act will be needed to save this species from extinction,” said Spivak.

The greatest threat to greater sage grouse in Wyoming is oil and gas development. There are vast areas in Wyoming where the greater sage grouse has already been extirpated following oil and gas industrialization.

Sage grouse populations in Wyoming have declined approximately 60 percent during the six years that the state’s “core area strategy” has been in effect. The BLM, which oversees more than half of sage grouse habitat in the West, is revising scores of management plans to demonstrate they can provide protection for the bird that would render an Endangered Species Act listing unnecessary. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on whether to list the species under the Endangered Species Act is due in late 2015.

About half of the sage grouse’s range has been destroyed and lost to development. What remains is critically important to wildlife and recreation opportunities. Less than 3 percent of sage grouse landscape is protected in national parks, wilderness, monuments or wildlife refuges.

Among the top flaws of the Wyoming Core Area Strategy are:

  • Vital core sage grouse habitat remains open to new oil and gas drilling.
  • The strategy protects only 4 percent of the most critical remaining mating and nesting habitat. The BLM plan recommends tiny, 0.6-mile buffers around leks. In contrast, scientists recommend a 4-mile “no disturbance” buffer around leks where areas have been leased for industrial development.
  • There are no protections for sage grouse winter habitat. Merely not drilling during the winter provides no protection; there must be habitat for sage grouse to return to the next winter.
  • It would allow nearly twice as much sage grouse habitat to be degraded and destroyed as Fish and Wildlife Service scientists recommend.

“Leaving room for greater sage grouse in the American West also means providing for pronghorn, kit foxes, pygmy rabbits and 350 other declining plants and animals. It also means protecting the amazing remaining vast open landscapes of the West,” said Spivak.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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