For Immediate Release, September 11, 2017
Kelly Fuller, Western Watersheds Project, (928) 322-8449, firstname.lastname@example.org
Allison Jones, Wild Utah Project, (801) 651-9385, email@example.com
Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy, (202) 888-7490, email@example.com
Trump Administration’s Fracking Plan Threatens Utah Sage Grouse Survival
FILLMORE, Utah— Ignoring protests from conservation groups, the Bureau of Land Management is about to auction more than 23 square miles of public land containing priority greater sage-grouse habitat in central Utah for fracking. The lands are part of the last refuge of one the West’s most imperiled populations of greater sage grouse, the “Sheeprocks” population west of Nephi, Utah.
The Bureau is moving forward with auctioning the lands for oil and gas drilling and fracking despite guidance in newly adopted land use plans calling for habitat conservation measures for declining sage-grouse populations. According to University of Utah researchers, the Sheeprocks population declined from 190 males in 2006 to only 23 in 2015. Federal and state agencies have previously prioritized restoring habitat for the Sheeprocks population, and have supplemented the population with birds from elsewhere in an attempt to save it.
“Why did the BLM say that Sheeprocks sage grouse need to have their habitat restored but then put that habitat up for auction?” asked Kelly Fuller, energy campaign coordinator with Western Watersheds Project. “If the BLM thinks fracking counts as sage-grouse habitat restoration, no wildlife on BLM land is safe.”
In June conservation groups filed a legal protest of the fracking plan because of its inconsistency with mandatory sage-grouse conservation measures for declining sage-grouse populations set forth in the agency’s own land-use plan.
“The BLM is making it clear that it views sage-grouse habitat as nothing more than an impediment to ‘energy dominance,’ ” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Auctioning off this vital habitat for drilling and fracking may wipe out this population of Utah sage grouse and undermine efforts to save the species throughout Utah and its range.”
“Sage grouse are like canaries in a coal mine. Their population numbers are indicators of sagebrush ecosystem function and health, and when they’re not doing well, it’s a wake-up call that it’s time to do what we can to conserve and improve habitat conditions,” said Allison Jones, conservation biologist and executive director of Wild Utah Project.
In 2011 the BLM assembled a blue-ribbon panel of sage-grouse experts, called the National Technical Team, to make recommendations on land-management strategies that would allow sage grouse to survive. These experts recommended closing priority sage grouse habitats entirely to oil and gas leasing. In the end federal sage-grouse plans committed to prioritizing oil and gas leasing and drilling outside important habitat for the birds.
“This project is an indication that the BLM and Department of the Interior are heading in the wrong direction, and there may be more bad news for the grouse to come from the Department’s grouse review,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “We are adamantly opposed to the notion of increasing oil and gas drilling within Focal Areas and Priority Sage Grouse Habitat. The agency should be prioritizing leasing away from these areas to give the grouse a better chance at recovering from its 95 percent population decline.”
By industrializing public land and destroying habitat, fracking would undermine ongoing collaborative efforts to save the Sheeprocks population. In 2016 nearly $1 million was directed toward Sheeprocks sage-grouse conservation. A BLM field report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act characterizes the public lands being offered for auction as including “excellent habit[at] for sage grouse.” Fracking would also damage winter habitat for elk and deer, which avoid oil and gas development.
The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
American Bird Conservancy is a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It achieves this by safeguarding the rarest bird species, restoring habitats, and reducing threats to bird species.
The Wild Utah Project strives to advance our mission of providing science-based strategies for wildlife and land conservation.