The clock is ticking about whether to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species. Such a listing could all but shut down mineral development in the bird’s habitat. The state has already tackled sage grouse protections. Now it’s the federal government’s turn. It’s been 30 years since the Lander Resource Management Plan was revised. And so the Bureau of Land Management took the opportunity to put more protections in place for the grouse while they were at it.
The Lander Resource Management Plan is hundreds of pages and covers a lot of ground.
A 5000-well oil and gas project proposed for the Powder River Basin is drawing sharp criticism from a wildlife advocacy group. Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says the drilling would take place right in the middle of critical sage grouse habitat.
“Well, the 5000 wells are projected in an area of over a million acres to the north of Douglas, stretching all the way up in the Thunder Basin National Grassland and including several core areas that have been proposed priority habitat for sage grouse,” Molvar says.
The newly discovered abundance of domestic oil and gas is creating a shortage of something else: the petroleum engineers who regulate drilling activities. Government petroleum engineers approve companies’ drilling plans and inspect wells after they’re completed to make sure they’re not at risk of contaminating water or blowing out, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, there just aren’t enough petroleum engineers to go around.
The Bureau of Land Management is asking for nearly $3 million to spend on research into birth control for wild horses.
Population growth has made it difficult to manage wild horses, and currently the agency removes horses from public lands in order to maintain an adequate population.
A study by the National Research Council last year concluded that the current practice is flawed, and that the BLM should use birth control instead. But BLM spokesman Tom Gorey says the agency isn’t happy with the drug that’s available.
The U.S. Forest Service is analyzing how additional oil and gas development would affect a 44,000-acre parcel of land in the Wyoming Range. The study will help the agency decide whether to allow energy leasing in the area.
The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says that because it’s multiple use land, the Forest Service should continue to allow oil and gas development. But Steve Kilpatrick with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation says new development in the Wyoming Range would harm important wildlife habitat.
Wyoming has some of the longest wildlife migration routes in the U.S. Animals travel in some cases over 100 miles from summer ranges to winter habitats. Protecting the migration routes is important for maintaining healthy populations. But land managers and other decision makers often don’t actually know where the animals travel. Now, scientists are tracking their routes. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.
Coal sales in western states are under increased scrutiny from lawmakers after revelations of problems including reserves of the fuel sold at prices below market value.
A letter from the U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General released Friday shows federal officials in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico accepted below-market bids for coal or sold the fuel without full appraisals.
Inspectors said that violated federal rules including the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, which requires coal sales to be competitive.
The Bureau of Land Management says educating the public is a key reason they’re proposing a wild horse sanctuary near Lander. It would be the second sanctuary of its kind in Wyoming.
The BLM regularly removes wild horses from public lands in the western U.S. and often, the animals are shipped to long-term pastures in the Midwest. But the BLM’s Scott Fluer says keeping them closer to home has some advantages.
“This would allow the public to be able to come out and take a look at these horses and be able to see them in more of a natural environment,” Fluer said.
The federal government released a new plan for managing sage grouse habitat in Wyoming on Friday. The Bureau of Land Management says the plan will allow for consistent policies across federal and state lands, while protecting the bird from an endangered species listing.
A new Bureau of Land Management report indicates that most of the groundwater contamination near Pinedale was not caused by the energy industry.
After petroleum products showed up in water wells in the Pinedale Anticline gas field in 2006, several agencies launched an investigation to figure out where the contamination was coming from. They concluded that some pollution occurred naturally, as gas seeped upward through geologic layers and into the groundwater. The report says other pollutants came from the process of drilling and installing water wells.
Bankrupt methane farming company Luca Technologies is planning to walk away from its wells on federal lands in Wyoming without plugging them. The company and its subsidiaries have between four and five hundred wells on federal lands, and COO Brian Cree says it's unlikely there will be enough money to clean them up.
“Those wells will just be turned back over to the federal government, and the federal government will be in a position to use their resources to plug and abandon those wells," Cree says.
The head of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center says regulations for reclamation on federal land are not consistent.
Pete Stahl says different BLM field offices across the state have different requirements for reclaiming land after energy development and are inconsistent in how they monitor reclamation. He says when the BLM is evaluating reclamation success, they sometimes compare the reclaimed site to just one small area of undisturbed land, which he says is not enough for a scientific comparison.
Some environmental groups have concerns about a land use plan that the Bureau of Land Management has drafted for the Buffalo area.
Jill Morrison with the Powder River Basin Resource Council says until now, the BLM has placed restrictions on energy development in areas that can't easily be reclaimed – for example, areas with steep slopes, or with fragile soil.
The Bureau of Land Management received a single bid at today’s/Wednesday’s coal lease sale and it has rejected that bid.
Kiewit Mining Properties bid 21-cents per ton on the Buckskin Mine Hay Creek Two tract. The tract has about 167-million tons of mineable coal and is adjacent to the Buckskin mine, which Kiewit operates.
However, the bid is the lowest the B-L-M has received since 2001.
B-L-M spokeswoman, Beverly Gorney, says ultimately the bid did not meet the B-L-M’s secret calculations of what’s considered fair market value.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo office is hoping to ensure more rigorous protections for sage grouse in the area. It’s drafted a new Resource Management Plan – or land use plan – to replace the one that’s been in place since the 1980s.
The plan outlines four alternatives. Thomas Bills with the BLM says the agency’s preferred alternative would incorporate the governor’s Core Area strategy, which limits development in prime sage grouse breeding areas.
The US government isn’t getting the full fair market value from coal lease sales on public lands. That’s according to a report released today by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General.
The report says recent lease sales potentially undervalued the coal by $62 million. The Bureau of Land Management appraises the leases instead of using the DOI’s Office of Valuation Services like its rules say it should, and the BLM does not take into account increased exports of coal abroad.
The Bureau of Land Management says it will likely remove fewer wild horses from the range this fall than in the past.
BLM Spokesoman Tom Gorey says that’s because they’re running out of space to put the horses.
“We are almost maxed out in our long-term pastures in the Midwest and the short-term corrals we have in the West, where we put horses that we have removed from the range,” Gorey said. “And we try to adopt out as many as we can, but adoptions have been on the decline.”
A study by the National Research Council finds that the BLM’s management practices for wild horses are economically unsustainable and lack scientific justification.
The BLM removes thousands of horses from public lands each year, to maintain a certain population size. But Guy Palmer, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, says the practice is expensive – and fundamentally flawed.
The Bureau of Land Management will hear public feedback about the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles to round up wild horses at a meeting next month.
Wild Horse Specialist Ben Smith says the agency plans to remove nearly 600 feral horses in south-central Wyoming this year, leaving more than eleven-hundred on range land.
“The helicopter hearing is a hearing that we’re required annually to hold, to get the feedback from the public on the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles in wild horse and burro management,” says Smith.
The Bureau of Land Management has announced new restrictions on the sales of wild horses and burros.
A recent ProPublica report alleged that thousands of wild horses bought from the BLM were sold to be slaughtered in Mexico.
Previously, buyers were permitted to buy an unlimited number of horses, but now a buyer can only purchase four horses or burros every six months. They must keep the animals for at least six months, describe where they’ll live, and provide safe transportation.
Peabody Energy has been awarded a coal lease sale by the Bureau of Land Management for roughly $793-million. The tract is located in the Powder River Basin, and Peabody paid about a $1.10 per ton of coal, of which 721 million tons are estimated to be mineable.
Governor Matt Mead says the sale will be good for the state.
“It’s just short of 800 million dollars, which means over a course of about five years, Wyoming will get a little less than 400 million dollars from that sale,” says Mead.