The US Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service jointly released 14 final environmental impact statements and proposed federal land management plans in 10 Western states to protect the greater sage grouse and its habitat. Oil and gas groups said the requirements contradict a strong cooperative effort by states, producers, ranchers, local communities, and other stakeholders to accomplish the same purpose.
“Today, the federal government is stepping up and announcing those plans,” US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell said on May 28 at a Cheyenne, Wyo., event announcing the regulations. “They have strong conservation measures, but allow for sustainable development and traditional activities which have taken place. In most areas, the plans will minimize surface disturbance by energy development from oil and gas drill pads to electricity transmission lines.”
Jewell said the federal government developed the plans over 3 years in partnership with the states, and with input from local stakeholders. They will apply only to land and minerals which BLM and USFS manage, and honor all valid, existing rights, including those for oil and gas development, renewable energy, rights-of-way, and locatable minerals, the secretary emphasized.
“It’s not just about the sage grouse. It’s about the habitat and the West,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who led the governors’ greater sage grouse effort and also spoke at the Cheyenne event. “We recognize that our economy is at stake. We want to have oil and gas development. On the other side, we have to find a balance that recognizes there’s no future for our economy if we don’t take care of the sage grouse.”
Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance’s vice-president of government and public affairs, said the Denver-based association would protest all land use amendments that don’t conform with state plans, and support congressional efforts to delay them and a court-ordered decision on possibly listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species by Sept. 30.
Best achieved by states
“Conservation of the sage grouse is a goal shared by the oil and natural gas industry, ranchers, other industries, states, and communities across the West,” Sgamma said. “That goal is best achieved at the state level, not with a one-size-fits-all federal approach.”
In Washington, Daniel T. Naatz, vice-president of federal resources and political affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the new federal plans apparently fly in the face of meaningful conservation efforts already under way within the range states to protect the bird.
“Interior must find a balance between thoughtful conservation and critical energy and economic development, but these plans appear to be wanting on both fronts,” Naatz said.
Two other governors in the region weighed in on the new BLM and USGS regulations. Colorado Gov. John A. Hickenlooper (D) said he was cautiously optimistic about the two agencies’ approach, but continued to believe state-led efforts are the best way to protect the greater sage grouse.
“We’ve worked closely with many partners across the spectrum, including local governments, industry, landowners and conservationists,” he said. “A federal approach that is too rigid, including a listing of the bird, puts that cooperation at risk. We’ll continue to work with all parties to strike the right balance needed to protect this important species as well as Colorado livelihoods.”
The plans now will undergo a 60-day Governor’s Consistency Review period and concurrent 30-day protest period, after which records of decisions will be signed, officials at the Cheyenne event indicated.
Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].