Federal District Court Judge Overturns Oil & Gas Lease Sales on Public Lands in Southwest Colorado

Gunnison sage-grouse
Photo by Bob Gress, www.BirdsinFocus.com


February 10, 2022


Megan Mueller, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-704-9760
Hilary Cooper, San Miguel Co. Commissioner, 970-728-3844
Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance, 970-259-3583

Federal District Court Judge Overturns Oil & Gas Lease Sales on Public Lands in Southwest Colorado

Telluride CO – A Federal District Court judge late Wednesday overturned the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s 2017 and 2018 decisions to lease public land in Southwest Colorado for oil and gas development, agreeing with San Miguel County and conservation groups that oil and gas drilling in the area could harm the Gunnison sage-grouse, a bird that is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane found that federal officials failed to assess the full environmental impacts of the decision to lease the lands for oil and gas development, and violated the Endangered Species Act.  

San Miguel County, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Conservation Colorado sued the Bureau of Land Management in 2017 and 2018, over the Trump Administration’s leasing of public lands in important habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse.  

The BLM was required to analyze and address potential harms to Gunnison sage-grouse and other natural resources before leasing the lands for oil and gas development.  Judge Kane found that “…there were additional foreseeable impacts for the BLM to consider at the leasing stage such that the BLM did not comply with its responsibilities under NEPA.” The Court later “conclude[d] that the BLM had new information at the leasing stage that revived its duties under the ESA. The BLM ignored those duties, and thus it violated the ESA…” 

Each of the plaintiffs weighed in, saying: 

 “San Miguel County is very pleased with Judge Kane’s ruling. It was clear to us that the BLM’s leasing decision added additional threats to the federally listed Gunnison sage grouse and now it is clear that they acted unlawfully. Counties, state and federal agencies need to be working together to bring this species back from the brink of extinction. We prefer to work productively with the BLM in the field over fighting them in court.”  – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner

 “This is a huge win for Gunnison sage-grouse.  Oil and gas drilling in this area would displace grouse from critical habitat.  We hope that the Bureau of Land Management will start doing a better job of protecting Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and contributing to the collaborative effort to conserve this unique Colorado bird.” – Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild 

 “We have heard local residents repeatedly express their dismay about leaping headfirst in leasing without carefully looking at the impacts.  We need balanced management of our public lands that considers everyone’s needs, not just those of industry.” – Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance

The groups provided comments throughout the oil and gas leasing process, but the BLM ignored our concerns and leased the parcels without conducting the required environmental analyses.

The Gunnison sage-grouse was protected under the Endangered Species Act primarily due to habitat loss.  Oil and gas drilling on the leases at issue in these cases would have impacted critical habitat for a population of Gunnison sage-grouse in San Miguel Basin that is important to the survival of the species.  The court’s decision in these cases provides an opportunity for the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider their decision, and put strong habitat protections in place that are needed to recover the Gunnison sage-grouse so that the bird no longer needs Endangered Species Act protection.   

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Matt Sandler with Rocky Mountain Wild and Travis Stills with Energy and Conservation Law.


PDF of the press release.