TRCP engages to protect interests of hunters and anglers
From Alaska to California and Minnesota to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Forest Service administers 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. These landscapes ensure that all Americans have access to clean water, abundant fish and wildlife populations, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
National forest lands are also managed for multiple use, meaning that commercial and industrial activities, like logging and energy development, for example, must be balanced with the land’s value to conservation and outdoor recreation.
But a recent proposal would change the way that oil and gas resources are leased and developed within our national forests, potentially upsetting the balance between multiple uses and affecting our hunting and fishing opportunities.
Here’s why sportsmen and women need to speak up to ensure that our public lands are managed in a balanced way.
The Rules of the Game
It’s no secret that Americans depend on oil and natural gas to drive our cars and heat our houses. Sportsmen and women recognize that we need energy development, but most want to see it done responsibly. There are certain places on our public lands that are incompatible with development, where we must enact safeguards for sensitive habitats and protect special landscapes.
For example, decades of research have shown that energy development has the potential to fragment seasonal habitats for big game. In Wyoming, long-term research on the Pinedale Anticline demonstrated a 36 percent decline in the number of mule deer because of unbalanced development on winter range.
The current process for oil and gas leasing on Forest Service lands is based on a set of rules and procedures developed in 1990, and this framework—which was updated slightly in 2007—has been effective at ensuring our national forests are managed in a balanced way.
First, it’s important to know that even though these are national forest lands, the Bureau of Land Management controls the leasing of subsurface resources. One of the strengths of the existing process is a provision that requires the BLM to consult with the Forest Service and get its consent before leasing a particular parcel.
There have been several recent instances in which energy leases proposed by private interests were halted by the Forest Service’s determination that development would not be compatible with the existing conservation value of these lands. Some noteworthy examples are the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, one of the West’s premier mule deer hunting locations where the TRCP is currently trying to secure permanent protection from development, and the Thompson Divide in Colorado, a world-class elk hunting and trout fishing destination.
But the newly proposed rule would change this consultation requirement and eliminate the need for the BLM to get the Forest Service’s consent before leasing national forest lands. If this change is enacted, important habitat could get tied up for development even if it is widely recognized as incompatible with these activities.
Additionally, under the existing rules, the Forest Service is allowed to apply protective measures called stipulations to guide how energy development must take place in order to protect sensitive resources. Currently, the agency is allowed to apply the stipulations it deems most effective, but the proposed change would require the Forest Service to apply only the “least restrictive” stipulations necessary. This would likely result in fewer precautions and more fragmented habitats on our valuable public lands.
Increased fragmentation could lead to declining fish and wildlife populations and reduced hunting and fishing opportunities.
How You Can Help
The TRCP fully recognizes that oil and gas leasing and development on public lands is a complicated business, especially on national forest lands where the land is managed by the Forest Service while the BLM is responsible for energy leasing. Even so, federal policies must ensure that our best fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation destinations are conserved for current and future generations.
To that end, the TRCP encourages the Forest Service to make changes to the final rule that would:
1) Maintain the requirement for the BLM to receive consent from the Forest Service prior to leasing national forest lands; and
2) Maintain flexibility for the Forest Service to apply protective stipulations that are most effective for protecting resources and achieving intended management outcomes.
The new oil and gas leasing rule is not a done deal yet, and you can make your voice heard during the public comment period through November 2, 2020. If you care about fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation on your public lands, we encourage you to speak up.
Photo by Tom Hilton via flickr.