We’re taking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to court over their March 2017 lease sale. In order to explain why the Tres Rios Field Office (TRFO) March 2017 lease sale is worthy of a lawsuit, we need to take a step backward and review some recent history.
In 2015 we protested over the TRFO Resource Management Plan for whole range of reasons. You can see our list of all the ways we felt they failed to protect the public interest here.
Mostly, our protests were ignored. However, they did agree to complete the Areas of Critical Concern (ACEC) process through a Plan Amendment. ACEC’s are portions of public lands where special management attention is required to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, or scenic values, wildlife or vegetative resources or other natural systems or processes – areas that would be available to oil and gas development only with specific stipulations to protect values or resources. They also changed their tune on the Master Leasing Plan (MLP), but that’s a whole other story except that the MLP process can’t be fully engaged until the ACEC are finalized. An estimated time frame for that is roughly fall of 2018.
So, the BLM has not completed the ACEC process, yet in March of 2017 the agency leased parcels being considered as an ACEC. The TRFO also failed to engage in site specific analysis for these lease parcels as they moved ahead. They instead used the high level analysis (let’s say 100,000 feet!) of the Resource Management Plan that is based on science 5 to 10 years old. For some values and resource concerns, such as the Gunnison sage grouse, much as been learned about their habitat needs in the last few years that should be applied if the BLM is truly be committed to saving the endangered sage grouse from extirpation in this area of Colorado’s West Slope.
Which takes us to this week. We joined forces with San Miguel County, where the majority of contested leases are located, and other environmental groups outraged at the agency for not doing its job protecting deserving areas and filed a lawsuit against the BLM. Honestly, we don’t like litigation. In cases like these, we go through all other avenues first. We submitted comments, we protested their decision, we engaged with them. Yet, they chose to cater to industry over public interest. And in so doing, broke the law. We have no other recourse.
You can see the full press release below.
Colorado County and Conservation Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Southwest Colorado Oil and Gas Leases
San Miguel County, Rocky Mountain Wild, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Conservation Colorado today announced that they have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the agency’s decision to lease public lands for oil and gas without properly considering the environmental impacts of drilling on ten parcels of national public lands that were sold in the Colorado BLM’s March 2017 lease sale.
Oil and gas development in this area would negatively impact Gunnison sage-grouse and the leks used for the bird’s unique courtship displays. In 2014, the Gunnison sage-grouse was listed as a threatened species that required protections of the Endangered Species Act to reverse its trend toward extinction.
Each of the plaintiffs weighed in, stating:
“As elected officials, we seek to partner with land management agencies to keep this species off the endangered list. In this case we felt that we had no choice but to challenge the BLM’s leases, which could harm the species and impact its habitat.” – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner
“Oil and gas drilling will result in heavy truck traffic that will displace Gunnison sage-grouse from some of their last and most important remaining breeding and nesting grounds in San Miguel Basin. Half of the remaining habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse is on public land managed by BLM, and their continued failure to do their share to protect critical habitat undermines the local 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. That’s why there was overwhelmingly community support for the Tres Rios Master Leasing Plan. 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 Gunnison sage-grouse deserves strong conservation protections, not just to ensure the future of the species, but also to ensure that the years of collaborative conservation efforts led by local counties and the state of Colorado isn’t needlessly thrown away. We need the Trump administration to act to complement that hard work, not more rhetoric about ‘energy dominance’ or ill-advised lease sales that threaten to undercut years of stakeholder investment.” – Luke Schafer, West Slope Director, Conservation Colorado
The groups provided comments throughout the oil and gas leasing process asking the BLM to fully consider the consequence of its actions. The comments presented the legal reasons and environmental conditions that render these public lands inappropriate for oil and gas production, but the BLM never responded to these concerns and leased the parcels without conducting any of the required environmental analyses for any parcel.
The Gunnison sage-grouse was listed under the Endangered Species Act primarily due to habitat loss, and nearly 90 percent of the birds currently inhabit the Gunnison Basin. The remaining birds are scattered among a few isolated satellite populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Due to their small population numbers and genetic isolation, these satellite populations are important to the overall survival of the species. The isolated populations are at greater risk of extirpation due to the activities on the BLM-issued leases that impact the critical habitat for the San Miguel Basin satellite population. Instead of heeding its legal duty to promote recovery and delisting, the BLM’s leasing decision ignores the protections required to recover and delist the imperiled Gunnison sage-grouse.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Matt Sandler with Rocky Mountain Wild and Travis Stills with Energy and Conservation Law.
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
Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235