In the first quarter of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management will place seven times more acres of sage grouse habitat on sale in Wyoming for oil and gas drilling than it did during the same time last year. Holly Copeland, conservation scientist with The Nature Conservancy, crunched the numbers.
“They hovered between 20,000 to just under 40,000 acres in the fourth quarter of 2017 sale and then take [sic] a huge jump up to almost 120,000 acres in the first quarter of 2018,” Copeland explained about expansions of leasing in the core area for sage grouse, , which is home to the largest numbers of the bird as well as most of its breeding grounds.
The increase is due partially to a delayed reaction in the lifting of the Obama-era coal moratorium on federal land as well as new guidelines on drilling from the BLM.
Bob Budd, chair of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team, said drilling in core areas has always been allowed and that the new guidance from the BLM helps clarify the screening process to development in sensitive areas.
Brian Rutledge, National Audubon Society Vice President, added that it may be startling to see so much more leasing in core area all of a sudden, but it doesn’t necessarily change the fact that restrictions are still in place in Wyoming to support conservation.
"The dam has opened up, but the water still has to run through the filter,” Rutledge said.
He said the new BLM guidance may have more of an effect on a state with weaker controls in place.
Still, Copeland worries about the potential fragmentation of core areas. She pointed to a recent scientific study.
"Less fragmented is better and the nibbling away at the edges, creating smaller core areas, is not likely to be good for sage grouse,” Copeland said.
Audubon’s Rutledge said as long as federal agencies continue to abide by Wyoming’s resource management plan, the new leasing should not hurt conservation efforts.