Categorized | Public Lands

Bighorn Basin, Wyoming plan could go from bad to worse

Bighorn sheep are among the many species that depend on the Bighorn Basin (photo: Lilian Carswell)

Defenders of Wildlife recently submitted comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s draft Resource Management Plan for the Bighorn Basin area of northwestern Wyoming.  The area supports populations of sage grouse, bald eagle, goshawk, bobcat, marten, red fox, grizzly bear, gray wolves, snowshoe hare, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and much more.

In our letter we call for stronger standards to protect the valuable wildlife resources in the Bighorn Basin.  Most importantly we ask the BLM to move away from their incredibly risky “case-by-case” approach to wildlife conservation that would delay critical decisions about whether and how wildlife will be protected until after projects have already been designed and proposed, setting a perilous course for wildlife.  Seeing the danger that this approach poses for wildlife, Defenders instead recommends that the BLM adopt strong wildlife protection measures upfront in land management planning.  Establishing bright conservation lines in land development plans creates certainty for developers as well as for the public, who demand the conservation of their publicly owned resources.

Unfortunately for Wyoming wildlife, the story gets worse.  Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and his allies in the oil and gas industry have asked the BLM to stray even further from common sense and adopt a plan that would open more than 28,000 acres to oil and gas development with little protection for local wildlife and almost no analysis of what the ultimate impacts of this development will be.  If industry gets its way, BLM would open up so-called “oil and gas management areas,” where wildlife and every other resource except oil and gas could be ignored.  The approach would create what amount to wildlife “sacrifice” areas, where oil and gas development is the dominant use, regardless of impacts to wildlife and other values.

As we state in our letter:

“Instead of focusing on providing sufficient analysis and mitigation for biological resources in areas with heavy oil and gas development, the [BLM proposal] would completely ignore biological resources in these newly established management areas. This opposite approach would go from full analysis and consideration of wildlife, as required by BLM reforms, to none.”

Fortunately, the Obama administration has sought to put in place common sense reforms to the oil and gas development process on public lands to ensure that wildlife and other valuable resources get fair consideration.  The controversial and irresponsible plans proposed by BLM and the Governor of Wyoming are not balanced and should be promptly tabled.  Instead, the BLM should adopt a true multiple-use land management plan that balances the twin goals of wildlife conservation and energy development.

This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on dotWild.

Addie Haughey is the Federal Lands Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. Addie works within Defenders’ Federal Lands Program in Washington, DC to advocate for wildlife on our National Forests and on other public lands.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.