PRESS RELEASE: Rocky Mountain Wild Releases Research and Online Tool Showing Interior Department’s Destruction of Wildlife Corridors

Bull elk migrating in Shoshone National Forest
Bull elk migrating in Shoshone National Forest, courtesy of Travis Zaffarano, Wyoming Migration Initiative/University of Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Thursday, February 6, 2020
CONTACT: Erin McCann
303-746-2365

Launch Marks Two-Year Anniversary of DOI Order Promising to Protect Wildlife Corridors

DENVER – Today, Rocky Mountain Wild launched an interactive online tool that shows the millions of acres the Department of Interior (DOI) has offered for oil and gas development directly in wildlife corridors and key habitats. The map, based on new research from Rocky Mountain Wild, shows that in little over one year DOI has tried to lease nearly 1.2 million acres to the energy industry in big game priority landscapes, and 672,000 acres of that land is in the most crucial habitat identified by states.     

The launch coincides with the two-year anniversary of Secretarial Order 3362 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to prioritize protection of big game wildlife corridors in the west. The order was meant to preserve habitats and enhance big game populations so that they would continue to thrive. 

Current Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt was charged with implementing the order.  Unfortunately, the new online map shows that the former oil and gas lobbyist has put the priority solely on oil and gas development at the expense of the most important big game habitat. Since being confirmed to his current position in 2019, Bernhardt’s policies have done nothing but make key wildlife habitat and big game migration corridors more accessible for energy companies.  

“While Secretary Bernhardt publicly states that protecting migration corridors for future generations is a priority, his policies show that is not the case,” said Tehri Parker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Wild. “Our new research shows that the Department of Interior has worked to lease 1.2 million acres of big game wildlife habitat to energy companies. It is abundantly clear that up to this point, Secretary Bernhardt has little to no interest in protecting big game migrations.” 

Secretarial Order 3362 specifically directs the DOI to work with western states “to enhance and improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on Federal lands.” The order also directed the agency to “review and use the best available science to inform development of specific guidelines for the Department’s lands and waters related to planning and developing energy, transmission, or other relevant projects to avoid or minimize potential negative impacts on wildlife.”   

Recent scientific studies show that oil and gas development in winter range and migration corridors is a significant cause of declining numbers of big game species. While the oil and gas industry argues that big game grow accustomed to energy development, a 2019 study shows that mule deer actively avoid gas pads and are forced to abandon their normal winter ranges and stray farther away from oil and gas development. Interrupting wildlife’s critical migration patterns negatively impacts animal health, wildlife populations, and public safety. 

The online tool launched today covers land in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada and was built using research done by western states.  This map reveals how concentrated oil and gas leasing is near many key corridors, as well as the amount of land and types of wildlife affected.  Below is a chart detailing the affected acreage by state.

StateAcres Attempted to Lease in Priority LandscapesAcres Attempted to Lease in Most Crucial Habitat within the Priority LandscapesAcres Leased in Priority LandscapesAcres Leased in Most Crucial Habitat within the Priority LandscapesAcres Attempting to Lease in Upcoming Sales in Priority Landscapes
Colorado91,70040,40025,5001,300250
Montana14,00014,0004,5004,5000
Nevada288,000213,00010,8004,81018,600
New Mexico55,8005,36055,8005,20066,300
Utah52,20056,6005,4203,1700
Wyoming668,000342,000474,000236,00069,000
Total1,170,000672,000576,000255,000154,000

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About Rocky Mountain Wild: Rocky Mountain Wild is a 501(c)3 that protects wildlife and wild lands in the Southern Rocky Mountain Region. Using research, citizen science, and advanced geospatial analysis we offer solutions for conserving our most endangered species and landscapes.

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