Final Little Snake Plan Fails to Restore Balance and Protect Wildlife from Oil and Gas Drilling

Posted by Megan Mueller - October 17, 2011 - In the News, Newsroom, Press Releases - No Comments

For Immediate Release
October 17, 2011

Contacts:
Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild (303) 449-4571
Ken Strom, Director, Audubon Colorado, (303) 415-0130
Michael Saul, Attorney, National Wildlife Federation, (303) 441-5166

Final Little Snake Plan Fails to Restore Balance and Protect Wildlife from Oil and Gas Drilling
Greater sage-grouse, prized big game herds and world class hunting at risk

Craig, CO – The Bureau of Land Management released a Final Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Record of Decision for the Little Snake Region that prioritizes the interests of the oil and gas industry, at the expense of Colorado citizens who value our West Slope wildlife, landscapes and communities.  The final plan, released today, opens roughly 89% of the landscape to oil and gas drilling, including habitat essential to the survival of the imperiled greater sage-grouse and Colorado’s largest and most prized game herds.

According to the plan, roughly 89% of land managed by the Little Snake Field Office will be available for oil and gas drilling. With some of North America’s largest elk and mule deer herds, Colorado’s largest populations of the imperiled greater sage-grouse, and world class hunting opportunities, the Little Snake Resource Area is a national treasure that will face threats from increased drilling in the region.

“Colorado’s largest population of sage-grouse will be threatened by oil and gas drilling under the plan, increasing the likelihood that the bird will need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Strom, Director of Audubon Colorado.  “BLM could build sound conservation measures into its management plans and thus make it unnecessary to protect the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, but they have failed to do so in this case.”

Scientific analysis of the levels of oil and gas drilling that could occur under the management guidelines outlined in the plan, suggests that oil and gas development could exceed thresholds of tolerance for sage-grouse, and greatly increase the risk of loss of roughly 22% of the sage-grouse leks (essential courtship areas) in the Resource Area.  In addition, the plan provides no concrete measures to protect even the most important sage-grouse habitat from the impacts of transmission line development, mining, wind energy development, off road vehicle use, and other land uses.

Greater sage-grouse have already disappeared from half of their former range, and recently became candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in part because the BLM has failed to protect the bird from oil and gas drilling and other threats across millions of acres of habitat on BLM lands.  The sage-grouse is likely to be given the full protection of the Endangered Species act in 2015, unless the BLM and other stakeholders make progress towards restoring the grouse to healthy levels.

“The BLM missed an opportunity to develop a plan that included common sense protections to balance oil and gas drilling with conservation of the iconic western landscape that is home to the imperiled greater sage-grouse,” said Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist with Center for Native Ecosystems.  “We owe it to our grandchildren to protect and recover this important symbol of our nation’s wildlife heritage.”

“The BLM has inexplicably failed to use this plan revision to put in place a plan that could save Colorado’s best population of greater sage-grouse. Faced with a clear warning from the Fish and Wildlife Service that their proposed plan is ‘still lacking adequate protection for greater sage-grouse,” and ‘largely focused on facilitating oil and gas development,” the BLM’s plan unfortunately appears to put the bird  on a dangerous path to extirpation in northwest Colorado,” said Michael Saul, Associate Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.

A recent study by wildlife biologists found that mule deer and antelope herds on both sides of the Colorado-Wyoming border are declining.  Poorly managed oil and gas drilling could contribute to further declines in big game herds.  A 2007 report suggests that hunting, fishing and other wildlife related tourism brings 30 million dollars to Moffat County communities every year.

“Analysis of the Little Snake deer herd shows that it has been in poor performance and steady decline since the early 1990s, and that long-term population goals are probably unreachable without ‘drastic’ management changes. Colorado’s business and hunters need BLM to work to change these alarming trends, not to exacerbate them by declining to take reasonable steps to conserve remaining public land habitat,” said Saul.

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For high resolution photographs, b-roll, and background information on greater sage-grouse see:  http://rockymountainwild.org/species/birds/greater-sage-grouse

For an analysis of the levels of oil and gas drilling that could occur under the management guidelines outlined in the plan, and projected impacts on sage-grouse leks, see:  http://rockymountainwild.org/_site/wp-content/uploads/LSFO-RMP-oil-and-gas-buildout-scenario.pdf

For a study demonstrating decline of deer and pronghorn herds on CO/WY border see:  http://rockymountainwild.org/_site/wp-content/uploads/Executive-Summary-3July.2011Final.doc

For a report on benefits of wildlife related tourism see:  http://wilderness.org/files/Natural-Dividends-Wildland-Protection.pdf

 

The story was recently covered by the Denver Postthe Denver Business Journal, and the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.