Changes to BLM Energy Leasing Are a Step Backward for Sportsmen and Habitat
The elimination of Master Leasing Plans alters the up-front planning process meant to help balance the needs of wildlife with energy development
This week, the Bureau of Land Management made changes to its energy leasing process, altering up-front planning for development and limiting public input for land management decisions affecting fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access.
The agency specifically chose to eliminate the Master Leasing Plan policy, a tool designed to proactively balance energy development with other uses of public lands.
“Hunters and anglers have been working for more than a decade to help strike a more appropriate balance between wildlife habitat and energy production on our public lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unfortunately, yesterday’s decision by the BLM alters the up-front planning and engagement process and reduces the American public’s ability to have a say in how their public lands are managed. This could easily lead to increased and unnecessary conflict between energy development and fish and wildlife habitat.”
The Master Lease Planning concept was a look-before-you-lease approach to identifying and resolving areas of conflict early in the process of development. Ideally, once leasing and development did occur, the BLM and stakeholders would have already taken care to avoid impacts to fish and wildlife habitat. This process played out successfully on public lands in Moab, Utah, and Northwest Colorado in recent years.
The memorandum released this week makes public participation optional at best in the review of public land parcels identified for potential leasing. It also shortens the protest period for contestable leases from 30 days to 10 days.
“Rolling back the MLP policy is a step backward for an administration that says it wants to deregulate and bring decision-making on public lands closer to home, because diligent and transparent up-front planning prevents the need for red tape and costly mitigation later,” says Fosburgh. “We encourage the BLM to gather public feedback early in the process, use the best available science, and listen to constituents from every economic sector reliant on public lands—including the hunters, anglers, guides, outfitters, and retailers who drive the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”
This Is the Number One Question Midwestern Sportsmen Asked Us About the Farm Bill
Right now, Congress is drafting the 2018 Farm Bill and sportsmen want to be a part of the conversation
There is no greater opportunity for conservation in America than the prospect of a new Farm Bill, especially considering that it accounts for nearly $5 billion in nationwide spending on soil health, water quality improvements, and on-the-ground habitat for the wildlife we love to pursue. But in agriculture-dominant states, the stakes are particularly high for landowners, sportsmen, and surrounding communities.
This is why the TRCP recently joined forces with the Illinois Conservation Foundation to speak with hunters and anglers in three local forums about the Farm Bill conservation programs that help create better habitat and access on private lands in the Prairie State. For me, it also meant that—not long after joining the TRCP as the new director of agriculture and private lands in D.C.—I was going home.
Illinois is 95 percent private land, and—as in many Corn Belt states—access for hunting and fishing is increasingly limited. It’s in places like my home state that the Farm Bill can be a game changer for the college kid who can’t afford a deer lease or parents who are looking for a place to take their kid hunting or fishing for the very first time. Through federal funding made available by the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, the Illinois Recreational Access Program has opened up 17,600 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing. That’s a big win for sportsmen, but also the small businesses we rely on to keep us fueled, fed, and geared up for our adventures.
Illinois also boasts 87,110 miles of rivers and streams within the state and another 880 miles of river along its borders. This means that Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to utilize the conservation tools within the Farm Bill to improve water quality across the rest of the Mississippi River Basin. As farmers are incentivized to convert less productive croplands to habitat, the great side effect of creating better conditions for deer, ducks, and pheasants is capturing sediment, fertilizer, and pesticide run-off before it enters local waters.
As I can personally attest, Illinois is a very special place to grow up hunting and fishing. Like most, I started with a 4-10 shotgun and squirrels. When I wasn’t exploring the woods looking for greys and reds, it was blue gill with a cane pole. With coaching from my father and brother, I graduated to taking white tail with a bow and largemouth bass with a bait caster- all without ever leaving Southern Illinois.
Hunting and fishing is a critical component of the economy in Illinois. In total, the outdoor recreation economy accounts for $24.8 billion in consumer spending and directly supports 200,000 jobs. Sportsmen in Illinois also have the unique advantage of having three Representatives and one Senator on the House and Senate Agriculture committees that will craft the next Farm Bill.
We’re Glad You Asked
After walking through the complex alphabet soup of Farm Bill programs and their benefits with nearly 100 sportsmen from Alton to Peoria, we expected (and encouraged) questions. But I was surprised by the most common thing we heard: How can we make our elected officials understand how important this is? Sportsmen and women were sold, and they wanted to carry the message to the people who needed to hear it.
This Beer Metaphor Helps Explain Why We Need Habitat Mitigation
When it comes to balancing development with stewardship of fish and wildlife habitat, mitigation is a critical conservation tool that more sportsmen and decision makers should understand
The simplest definition of mitigation is “the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.” A colleague of mine once shared a great metaphor that helps to explain the concept: Let’s say you and I are sitting at a bar enjoying our favorite beverage and you’ve finished half of yours when I suddenly knock it over, spilling what’s left.
Would you feel the effects of my actions were mitigated if I bought you half a drink? How about if I grabbed a napkin, soaked up the remains of your drink, and squeezed it back into your glass? Even if you were to accept this and drink the remaining soaked up beverage, it would be a loss to you.
Truly mitigating the impact I had on your evening would, at the very least, mean buying you a new drink. I should probably consider buying the next round, too, if I want to get invited again!
Now, what if the precious resource lost was not your favorite IPA, but fish and wildlife habitat?
First, Do No Harm
There is a foundational hierarchy to mitigation, and it starts with doing no harm: The very best way to mitigate impacts of development on habitat is to avoid those impacts in the first place. After all, some places are just too important to develop, or it might not be possible to replace that habitat elsewhere.
Think about the very best wintering area for a mule deer herd. Some may argue those deer “will just go somewhere else” if a project goes in that would have impacts. But will they? Even if they do alter their course, we have no way of knowing if they are just as likely to survive a harsh winter on different terrain. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the area in the first place?
The next step in this hierarchy is to minimize impacts. A project developer should employ a wide range of actions to avoid as much disturbance as possible to animals in the area. For example, a proposed transmission line could be located along an existing road system to minimize fragmenting otherwise undisturbed habitat. Or, loud noises could be minimized in a variety of ways to lessen disturbance to animals.
If unavoidable or unforeseen impacts occur, the next step in the mitigation hierarchy is to compensate for the loss by creating habitat somewhere else. This might involve securing a conservation easement on private land or restoring adjacent habitat with treatments designed to improve conditions for the affected species overall. Compensatory mitigation for a new road system or oil and gas field in sagebrush habitat could involve, for example, payments by the developer to cut invasive juniper trees that have pushed out sage species’ preferred cover.
Beyond the Footprint
A very important consideration when determining how much compensatory mitigation is needed is understanding how animals respond to the project. Sometimes it’s not enough to replace the habitat removed in the area of a well pad, road, or wind turbine—often referred to as the “footprint” of the project. At times, the affected wildlife might also avoid using what looks like perfectly good habitat around the project footprint because they just don’t like being near the infrastructure, noise, or humans. In this case, to truly mitigate the actual impact, we have to figure out the footprint plus the area the animals avoid near it and replace that habitat elsewhere to achieve what is called “no net loss.”
Mitigation that only accounts for the footprint of the project is almost always a loss—think about that half a beer I spilled. Buying my buddy half a pint doesn’t really set the situation right, even though I’m technically replacing what he lost. There’s no other way to go from less habitat to no net loss of habitat unless mitigation accounts for the entire area affected by the presence of a project.
A New Era of Energy Development
So why does all this matter for sportsmen and women? Without mitigation as a tool for conservation, development equates to a loss of fish and wildlife habitat—plain and simple. That’s why the TRCP is working with our partners and a wide range of conservation and sportsmen’s groups to speak up for habitat mitigation, especially where there’s an appetite for more development on public lands.
Lost habitat equals fewer animals, less opportunity for hunters and anglers, and a hit to the local outdoor recreation economy. Sportsmen and women must stay informed and engaged, even on public land management issues as complex as mitigation, so we don’t wind up settling for half a beer.
This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated.
Where Public Lands Are in Limbo, Local Sportsmen Help Find a Path Forward
For decades, 500 Wilderness Study Areas in the West have awaited individual acts of Congress to resolve how they should be managed, and those closest to the land are finally helping to make the call—wilderness or something else?
When archery hunter Harvey Dalton drew a coveted bighorn sheep tag for the Dubois Badlands in Wyoming, he knew he was in for a hunt of a lifetime. After all, he’d been applying and collecting preference points for 40 years before drawing the tag.
Unlike most bighorn hunting units where it takes hours in the saddle or on foot to get into the backcountry of rugged northwest Wyoming, the Badlands has plenty of road access. But it certainly wasn’t flat hiking further into the steep draws where sheep are often tucked away. The sweat equity Dalton put in over four weeks made connecting with a big ram even more meaningful, but he was troubled by evidence of ATV and dirt bike use he saw in areas where there should have been none.
Unfortunately, while the Dubois Badlands remains a Wilderness Study Area—one of more than 500 parcels of public land across the West set aside decades ago as potential wilderness—there continues to be confusion from public land users, and even land managers, about what kinds of activities are allowed there.
What Is a Wilderness Study Area?
In 1976, legislation directed the Bureau of Land Management to inventory undeveloped public land for areas that could be managed as wilderness, for the opportunities to find solitude or pursue traditional outdoor recreation. This resulted in almost 13 million acres identified as Wilderness Study Areas, but they weren’t meant to stay in limbo forever. It takes an act of Congress to change the status of these areas, by either designating them as wilderness or releasing them to be managed for other uses, so the process of reaching a final resolution has been slow—as in decades long.
Wyoming has yet to resolve any of its 42 Wilderness Study Areas encompassing 570,000 acres, including the Dubois Badlands. Sportsmen and others are hoping to finally make some progress through the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative—a process where stakeholders, including the public, can weigh in on how the land ought to be managed and make recommendations to legislators.
From Local to Legislation
Here is how the WPLI works: Counties have the option to join the initiative and develop citizen advisory committees made up of hunters, ranchers, energy industry representatives, and other public land stakeholders. Committees listen to public comment and data from agencies, spend time on the ground, and work to reach recommendations for whether Wilderness Study Areas in their county should be designated wilderness, released to be managed for multiple-use, or given some other type of designation. Recommendations from across the state go to elected officials and, if all goes according to plan, eventually become law. It’s no simple task.
This collaborative, local approach has worked well in other Western states. Nevada has been a leader in addressing Wilderness Study Areas since the 2000s—compromises came out of the counties and eventually resulted in bipartisan bills from Congress that struck a balance between conservation and development needs. Some of these efforts were successful within just a few years; others took public land users on a decades-long rollercoaster ride.
It was always worth it, but it had to be done thoughtfully, one study area at a time. One-sided proposals that either designate all areas as wilderness or release all of them get introduced in almost every legislative session—and die as fast as an antelope shot through the heart.
While we currently know them as Wilderness Study Areas, these are also the places where we’ve enjoyed epic fishing with friends, camping in remote canyons with more deer sign than human tracks, or the sheep hunt of a lifetime. These areas matter and we owe it to them to follow through on what we started in 1976. The WPLI effort is an opportunity to clarify the future management of these lands and provide certainty to all who rely on them.
This is why the TRCP is representing sportsmen on the Fremont County committee and collaborating with our local partners—like Bowhunters of Wyoming, where Dalton serves as vice president—in other counties to finally resolve the status of these public lands. We want to make sure that the best possible path forward for management of fish and wildlife is clear, not confusing, and that areas like the Dubois Badlands continue to provide quality backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities.
But we can’t do it alone. Sportsmen and women are some of the most active users of our public lands and, as such, perhaps some of the most knowledgeable about current conditions. We also have a lot at stake in management changes. If you want to share your input with the WPLI committees or attend a meeting, learn more here.
You can also encourage our decision makers to advocate for responsible management of public lands, especially through initiatives that bring locals to the table, by signing the Sportsmen’s Country petition. It’s our latest effort to safeguard public-land hunting and fishing opportunities by not only keeping public lands public, but also keeping them well-managed. Help us get to 10,000 signatures this year!
Top photo courtesy of Bill Sincavage @jakeysforkwyoming.
Can Conservation Catch Up With Migration Mapping Technology?
Now that breakthroughs in wildlife research and GPS technology have taught us more about big-game migration corridors, we can’t ignore the value of these habitats—we have to conserve them
Wildlife management on public lands has benefited greatly from advancements in technology. In particular, our understanding of how and where big game species migrate has grown exponentially in recent years.
When I was a graduate student researching Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the late 1980s, satellite or GPS radio collars were simply not available. Back then, researchers had to capture their study animals, fit them with collars made with technology of that era, and follow animals around trying to determine their locations and habitat-use patterns.
Sometimes this meant three researchers all scrambling up to separate high points to triangulate where an animal was, using a telemetry receiver and antenna. Each one of us would determine the direction of the strongest signal emitting from the animal’s collar, aim a compass in that direction, and plot the bearing on a map. The place where our three lines intersected was theoretically where the critter was located. But times sure have changed.
No Compass, No Fuss
Today, advances in GPS telemetry are remarkable. Scientists merely have to catch the animals they’re studying to fit them with GPS collars that are accurate to within a few feet. No more worrying about triangulating compass bearings and human error—we know exactly where these critters are spending their time. GPS collars can also be programmed to mark multiple locations for each animal over any desired 24-hour period and automatically send this data to the scientist’s computer, tablet, or smartphone. Software has been developed that can sift through the data and build our maps for us.
Scientists now have the capability to build a travel log for the spring or fall journey of each antelope, bighorn sheep, or mule deer. Locations can be easily plotted in a GIS—a computer system for data related to positions on Earth’s surface—to create accurate, detailed maps showing where the animals traveled, how much time they spent in certain areas, and which habitats they preferred during these annual migrations between winter and summer range.
In Wyoming, scientists used this technology to follow mule deer 150 miles from the Red Desert to Hoback Junction, south of Jackson Hole, and transformed their research into a broader effort called the Wyoming Migration Initiative. Their goal is to advance the understanding and appreciation of Wyoming’s migratory big game species through science and public outreach, and they are currently working to expand to other Western states. This could help broaden the available data and build awareness among sportsmen and women, wildlife managers, and lawmakers across the region.
But the problem remains that our conservation policy and planning tools haven’t been updated, even as we’ve learned so much more, and these critical habitats are still largely overlooked.
The discovery of the Red Desert-to-Hoback migration corridor led the state of Wyoming to revise their policy definitions and develop a strategy for conserving vital migration corridors. This should help the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as they work with the BLM on conserving this often overlooked habitat, so it could be a model to follow.
Hopefully these efforts will help advance conservation with good policy, because when migration corridors are not given this kind of attention, they may be damaged, developed, or lost from the landscape. Loss of these corridors could have drastic impacts on big-game herds, hunting opportunities, and the outdoor recreation economy.
Time for a System Upgrade
All of the fancy data and maps in the world would be pointless without adequate policy and management actions to conserve the migration corridors that we now understand are important for big game species’ survival. We need to use what we’ve learned to ensure that the iconic big game herds of the west can be sustained well into the future.
Now that mule deer can literally send scientists mobile notifications of their whereabouts and preferences, it’s time for a policy upgrade based on this new information. It’s not enough to maintain and restore the habitat where wildlife spend most of their time, especially if degraded habitat conditions along migration routes can prevent them from getting there.
It is not enough anymore, either, for sportsmen and women to simply fight for keeping public land public. It is critical that hunters and anglers get involved in public land management decisions that could help accomplish more, like conserving migration routes and stopover areas.
Improving the management of our public lands will undoubtedly be a long journey. Sign the petition at sportsmenscountry.org to take the first step.
This story was originally published February 25, 2016 and has been updated.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.
29 Responses to “Changes to BLM Energy Leasing Are a Step Backward for Sportsmen and Habitat”
This is another horrendously ignorant and awful decision by people who don’t know anything about the environment, the changes that wildlife, wild lands, people will have to make in the years ahead. These people should step back from making these decisions and let the system run as well as it can under the former standards.
BLM has it wrong again and needs to reconsider this leasing process. Public lands belong to all of us and a balance between there use is critical.
The days of endless, obstructionist litigation are over. This will facilitate balance in the public land arena. The days of Liberal, urban dwellers ruining industries to save the Skippy Minnow or to say we are endangering the Spotted Owl to drum up contributions from gullible folks and in the process, ruin an entire industry, so we import Canadian wood are over ! MAGA. DRILL BABY, DRILL.
Mark Rozman, I am neither a liberal nor a city dweller. I am a hick in north Idaho. It’s foolish to believe that this is a 2 sided argument. If anything, you should be upset about loosing the right to weigh in on governments decisions, isn’t that what the Republican Party is founded on? Less tyrannical government and more power to the people? there are a lot of moving pieces in an ecosystem and proper planning is required before management action takes place to ensure harm isn’t brought to natural resources, let alone you. Take a drive up to flint Michigan and ask them to see if public participation is important.
Happy days are here once again—-it’s like it’s 1929 all over again!
You must be from the city.Proble can’t tell a deer from a moose,so you have nothing to lose.
Drill baby drill? Must be a high-fence Texas guy.
High-fenced ranches are but a minor blimp on the Texas landscape, a state so vast that it is larger than California, New York, and Maine combined; for reference, it would take you nearly 13.5 hours to drive from South Texas to the northern Panhandle. We have more distinct ecoregions than any other state in the nation from the Rolling Plains to the Trans-Pecos to the Gulf Prairies and Marshes to the Eastern Piney Woods. We support populations of native bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and black bears. Four species of quail call this state home and hundreds of grassland bird species. Our High Plains and their associated Playa Lakes provided wintering refuge for over 100,000 sandhill cranes and our coastal marshes support 1.9 million wintering ducks and nearly 550,000 geese. From 1999-2011 slightly over 40% of the Federal Duck Stamp sales came from Texas – an astounding figure. We are home to Big Bend National Park, over 800,000 acres of protected Chihuahuan desert and the Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. Many of us support and greatly value the mission and efforts TRCP and are eyes are open well beyond our own borders. Come down and visit us sometime. We’d be happy to show you what our great state has to offer beyond loose preconceptions and high fences.
S.mick: you’re right, Texas IS great. I spent years appreciating the fantastic resources you mention. That doesn’t address the fact that there are MANY high fence deer ranches in that state, enough so to muster enough power to write laws to protect their un-American Wildlife experiment. One wonders what cervid pathologists would say about CWD origins and transmissions throughout Texas, and the role these operations play?
I would respectfully disagree. To each their own. And no need to wonder – Meateater Podcast, Episode #70.
How much public land is there in Texas?
Texas is >95% private lands.
Who will this directly impact? The people who live near the extraction or mining or logging. Sure, the jobs are good for the rural people. But how long will these jobs last and what will the long term impact be for those whose home has been ruined? This plan is going to benefit the rich who don’t live near the mines. Sound like the same old thing? Yes. Stand up for your land, your families, your long term health and the reason you want to live away from the toxics of the cities. Don’t give away your resources to the big companies. Don’t get fooled into thinking the resources are going to go to you and your neighbors.
The creation of public lands was to preserve the natural wealth and beauty of our nation I do not believe nor trust the BLM to make a fair and balanced land use decision without a mixed committee that weighs the public’s input especially with so many government employees politically and financially motivated. I do not care if your a hunter, fisherman, hiker, environmentalist, and endagered species or a town that need to balance those with jobs and the nation with energy needs.
It appears the new person in charge has no love for nature and it’s wonders. If the locals would work with nature, there can be profits from tourists and schools. When the oil rigs come in and drill, they will probably be moving. Seems to me they have more to gain by keeping these people out. Now, you can drink your water and breath the air.
As I understand it, although the Master Leasing Plan concept has been discarded, the Individual Resource Management Plan concept will still be used. The problem with the MLP was it added to existing delays, making it very difficult to obtain natural gas leases. Federal managed lands were taking over a year to issue permits, compared to state managed lands taking about two months. Public land exists for the use of all citizens. About 10% of citizens hold hunting licenses, but nearly 100% of citizens require energy. Currently the BLM controls about 30% of the country’s energy. With control of such a huge amount of our natural resources comes the responsibility to make sure it is being used in a way that works for all citizens. It may look like a win for sportsmen when regulations impede mineral extraction almost to the point of making it impractical to apply for permits, but the reality is, we must work out a way that is fair for everyone, or we will risk suffering a backlash that will swing the pendulum too far in the wrong direction. I understand that the mineral interests play hardball, and we have to protect our rights vigorously, but I hope TRCP is looking at the big picture and presenting the debate in a way that allows us to protect access for the long term, which means considering the needs of the 90% of Americans that do not have hunting licenses.
It is true that nearly 100 percent of people need energy yet every person on Earth needs clean water and air.
Jim: The idea of energy being a priority is undoubtedly important. My only question is whether making it easier to drill is necessary. Looking at energy with only fossil fuels in mind seems dangerous to me. When you make drilling this much easier to access it will make drilling a priority over a greater balance of a more reliable energy long term in renewables. There is a region I grew up in that is drilling a remarkably high number of wells right now and putting wind (which is very productive in this area) to the wayside. I agree the balance of access is important but the signs are not pointing towards a good balance. Energy development is taking priority though it is typically a boom and bust cycle that rural areas become addicted to and end up losing from long term. While the economic stability that outdoor recreation brings is significantly more stable (though less in value) only if there is healthy outdoor access to well conserved lands. I’ve had family stuck on this economic rollercoaster that energy development brings to rural communities and 70 years of this shows very little to no change in pattern. Long term solutions need to be reached and inhibiting local voices is not the way even if it causes greater delay in permits being issued.
I agree with Kristyn. The MLP process works. Our wildlife habitat will suffer under the new policy. Very disappointing.
A good example of my concern about TRCP presenting the debate to us in a factual manner would be headlining this article with a picture of a strip mining operation, when the MLP refers specifically to natural gas extraction. This type of scare tactic is unbecoming of a professional organization, and lessens TRCP’s credibility. I expect the unvarnished truth from TRCP, so we can honestly evaluate each challenge, and come to an understanding of our best path forward in order to protect our access rights.
Thank you for raising this, Jim. You are correct — MLPs applied to oil and gas development, not mining. We regret the error, and the photo has been updated.
save our land!
Contact the BLM and your congressperson. Tell them this makes you angry.
One great aspect of these Rightwing insane leaps into the past is these machines make great sight in targets for our hunting weapons—per flat planes that ring like bells when you make a good hit. The engine blocks return that satisfying thunk when hit squarely. Popping the glass of buildings and machines as well has that positive reinforcement we all love so much. So let’s rape our nations land further in the name of Corporate greed and get out there and pop some caps.
From what I see, reducing public input to BLM is only the beginning. Combine this with the reduction of the EPA and it becomes a recipe for the potential ruining of our public lands. I’d hate to think that this what the majority of people asked for…If we do not help to protect our public lands they eventually could very well be used and abused.
Kenneth B. Lane – Hayduke LIVES!
There is no – again. Do it wrong and it’s gone for good and we will only be able to tell our grandchildren about what used to be.
Trump’s people already at work to undoing the conservation policies that been in place for YEARS ! ! !
I wish we could come together on the FACT that this Administration is here to not do what is BEST for the PUBLIC GOOD, meaning OUR Public Lands! At a time where defunding the Public Land Management agencies is gong backwards, among many other policy decisions. Frankly, WE–those west of the 100 Meridian DON’T want another Texas (98% Private land). So, the second largest state, and only 2% Public Lands is completely the opposite of Alaska, which is the most amazing state we have. There is little debate (78% of Americans WANT Public Lands). Probably 20% of those polled haven’t ever visited a Public place that Land Water and Conservation Fund payed for–the electorate is ignorant. Get involved! That means visiting and writing your Senators and Representatives. Voting them OUT of office (Draining the SWAMP??), and educating yourself to the proper Public Lands Governance. Most that own Private lands do the bare minimum of protecting any type of intact ecosystem–with a few exceptions in most counties.