On September 5, CRS petitioned Secretary of the Interior Zinke to temporarily withdraw approximately 117,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming from oil and gas leasing. Over the past year-and-a-half, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has unsuccessfully tried to sell oil and gas leases on all of these lands. It is now time to take a step back and reexamine whether other uses of these lands, such as hunting and fishing, safeguarding drinking water, and recreation, should take precedence.
“Responsible stewardship and multiple use are conservative principles that have guided America’s public land management for more than a century. The Trump administration has turned this tried and true approach on its head, threatening the public access, resource quality, and diverse revenue stream that western communities depend on,” said CRS president David Jenkins.
The parcels included in our petition include critical habitat for big game and other wildlife, migration corridors, trout streams, popular outdoor recreation areas, important drinking water sources, and significant historic sites. Many of these parcels were leased over objections by state and local agencies that understand the true values of these lands.
For this administration’s leasing program, quantity is trumping quality. There is no correlation between number of acres offered and number of acres actually leased. Since this administration came to office, the BLM has offered more than 12.7 million acres for oil and gas leasing, yet only 1.3 million acres have sold.
With this no-holds-barred pursuit of its so-called “energy dominance” agenda, the Trump administration has made oil and gas drilling its preferred use of America’s public lands, and in doing so, is subordinating all other public land values to oil and gas production, disenfranchising the vast majority of stakeholders in the process. Additionally, the cost to taxpayers of administering such underwhelming sales is likely significant–and fiscally unwise.
“It certainly makes no sense to lock up these important public resources, which rightfully belong to all of us, for an oil and gas industry that has shown no interest in them,” Jenkins added.
CRS’s withdrawal petition, if successful, would provide the BLM with breathing room to reevaluate its management approach for these 117,000 acres, which were chosen because of their importance to wildlife, water supply, recreation, and cultural resources. The agency could then engage local communities and stakeholders in conversations about how the lands should be managed and to update the appropriate land use plans based on those conversations. However, the petition requires action from the Secretary of the Interior, as only he can issue the order to withdraw these lands.
Public lands that would be withdrawn under the petition include:
- Colorado: Over 3,000 acres of crucial winter range for elk, mule deer, and other big game species in northwest Colorado.
- Montana: Almost 6,000 acres in southeastern Montana’s Knowlton Travel Management Area, which was established through a “community-based decision making process” and where BLM has undertaken several resource enhancement projects with local partners, including the State of Montana and National Wild Turkey Federation.
- Nevada: Over 16,000 acres overlying a portion of central Nevada’s Muddy Creek Aquifer from which the Virgin Valley Water District “draw[s] the drinking water for the Town of Bunkerville and Mesquite City.”
- Utah: Nearly 4,700 acres surrounding central Utah’s Otter Creek State Park and Reservoir, where the State of Utah recently informed BLM that “[o]il and gas exploration . . . might conflict with recreation activities on and around the lake.”
- Wyoming: About 13,500 acres of crucial winter range for big game species in southwestern Wyoming, as well as 1,900 acres that surround Fort Laramie National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System.
As great conservative icons from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan understood, the truly conservative path for America’s public lands is a balanced approach, where conserving our fish and wildlife habitat, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, and protecting our drinking water sources are on equal footing with development. As Reagan so eloquently pointed out:
“…we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”