| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 7, 2006
Contact: Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch, 805-252-4277
Rural Landowners and Conservationists Protect Land from Oil Drilling
U.S. Bureau of Land Management Withdraws 10,088 Acres from
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – Conservation groups and rural landowners today applauded the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision to withdraw 10,088 acres from a controversial oil lease sale.
The lands – located in a remote area surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge and the Carrizo Plain National Monument – were auctioned in June for as little as $2.00 per acre and represented the first step in allowing oil development in this remote region. This week, the BLM decided to revoke the leases after reviewing formal challenges from conservation groups and rural landowners concerned about the damage that oil drilling could bring to wildlife, water pollution and the area’s rural quality of life.
“We’re very pleased with the decision to protect these national treasures from runaway oil development,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “Our region’s national forests, monuments and wildlife refuges are now safe from damage caused by oil drilling.”
The BLM conducted the oil lease sale in June, auctioning off the mineral rights across 32 parcels of land in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Ventura and Kings counties in central California. The BLM went ahead with the auction even though ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity and eight rural landowners filed formal protests, arguing that the BLM should not have included 11 of the 32 parcels in the lease sale.
ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the lease sale because the BLM failed to properly notify the groups about the auction and failed to prepare an adequate environmental study of oil drilling on these lands. The BLM also failed to consult with expert agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, even though rare plants and animals like the San Joaquin kit fox, California condor, California jewelflower and blunt-nosed leopard lizard were present on all lands to be leased. In addition, the BLM denied ForestWatch access to various public documents concerning the auction.
“The BLM’s decision means that, for now, these ecologically rich areas will be spared from oil and gas development,” said Monica Bond, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We commend the agency for listening to the public’s concerns and withdrawing the parcels from leasing.”
Eight rural landowners also filed formal protests against the oil auction. They challenged the inclusion of certain “split-estate” parcels in the auction – privately owned lands with federally owned underground mineral rights. The BLM auctioned away these mineral rights without notifying any of the approximately 48 surface landowners whose property would be directly affected by the lease sale, even though the agency was required to do so by law. Without notification, the landowners were unable to buy back the mineral rights from the government or directly bid on them during the auction.
In this week’s decision, the BLM decided to grant all of the protests, and to retroactively withdraw all challenged parcels from the lease sale. This is the second time in less than a year that the BLM has withdrawn these parcels from auction.
The Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge is a 14,094-acre sanctuary set aside in 1985 to protect feeding and roosting habitat for the California condor, one of the world’s most endangered birds. Located in San Luis Obispo, Kern and Ventura counties, this refuge is the site where the last female condor was captured in 1986 for the captive breeding program. Two of the revoked parcels totaling 2,160 acres are along the refuge boundary.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County was set aside by presidential proclamation in 2001 to protect one the largest remaining untouched ecosystem in the southern San Joaquin Valley. It contains one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the state. Four of the revoked parcels (more than 1,800 acres) are along the monument boundary.
The Cuyama Valley is one of Santa Barbara County’s most rural areas, and federal biologists have designated its upper reaches as an “Area of High Ecological Significance” because of the abundance of rare plants and animals. The area also serves as a gateway to the Los Padres National Forest and the Dick Smith Wilderness Area. Six parcels totaling nearly 7,300 acres were auctioned there.