For Immediate Release, February 24, 2015
Contact: Michael Saul, (303) 915-8308, email@example.com
New BLM Oil and Gas Leases in Wyoming Would Drill in Heart of Remaining Sage Grouse Habitat
Despite 60 Percent Decline in Six Years, Lease Plan Ignores
Scientific Recommendations for Protecting Sage Grouse
WASHINGTON— The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to offer new oil and gas leases on 89,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming would have devastating effects on greater sage grouse, including allowing industrial operations in some of the birds’ most important nesting and rearing habitat, according to comments submitted to the agency this week by the Center for Biological Diversity. Even though sage grouse have declined 60 percent over six years in Wyoming, the plan repeatedly ignores federal scientists’ recommendations for protecting these prairie birds from fossil fuel development.
“Rather than protecting these vanishing birds, the BLM is proposing to hand over some of their last remaining habitat to the oil and gas industry,” said Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center. “A few companies may squeeze some short-term profits out of it, but the long-term effect will be pushing these great prairie birds toward extinction.”
The BLM’s leasing proposal, which targets the Wind River/Bighorn Basin area, follows the agency’s “Wyoming Core Area Strategy” that all but guarantees significant harm and continued population declines to greater sage grouse. Federal agency scientists, in their National Technical Team report, have said much stronger protections are needed to conserve the species in the face of oil and gas drilling.
“Given what we know about sage grouse, it’s unthinkable that new oil and gas drilling would be allowed right where these rare birds nest and raise their chicks,” Saul said.
The BLM’s environmental assessment of the proposal would allow oil and gas activity as close as 0.6 miles from sage grouse breeding areas (known as “leks”) even though there’s strong scientific consensus that such a buffer won’t keep the birds from being harmed. Wyoming’s own Game and Fish Department estimated there’s only a 6 percent chance that sage grouse would continue to occupy those leks if oil and gas activity were so close.
Contrary to the Wyoming BLM’s leasing proposal, the National Technical Team recommends no new leasing in core habitat that has not yet been drilled. Where valid leases already exist, a four-mile “no disturbance” buffer should be placed around leks (although that would only protect about 80 percent of nesting females according to the National Technical Team). Buffers of five miles would capture 90 percent to 95 percent of nesting females, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study .
Sage grouse have already been extirpated in vast areas in Wyoming following oil and gas industrialization, and remaining populations in the state have declined approximately 60 percent between 2007 and 2013.
“Leaving room for greater sage grouse also means providing for pronghorn, kit foxes, pygmy rabbits and 350 other declining plants and animals. It means protecting the last, amazing vast open landscapes of the American West,” said Saul.
To learn more about conserving sage grouse, click here to see our sage grouse scorecard.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.