Bureau of Land Management’s Proposed Public Lands Protections Benefit Montana’s Waterways

Greater Sage-Grouse Protections Could Help End the Threat of Industrial Oil and Gas Development and Leasing in Southwest Montana

Yesterday, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper submitted a public comment to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in support of its enhanced habitat protections for the greater sage-grouse, as proposed in the draft environmental impact statement, that will also provide critical protections to waterways and clean water resources in Southwest Montana. 

“It’s past time the BLM remove the existential threat of industrial oil and gas leasing and development on our public lands in Southwest Montana,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “The enhanced greater sage-grouse habitat protections are a win-win-win for the bird, the herd, and our valuable and finite water resources.”

In response to sharp population declines of the greater sage-grouse, the BLM is proposing to strengthen sage-grouse habitat protections on public lands, including public lands in Southwest Montana. Currently, sage-grouse habitat in the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Centennial valleys  overlaps with public lands leased by the BLM for fluid mineral and industrial oil and gas development. Oil and gas development threatens critical water resources and keynote fish and wildlife habitat, including the greater sage-grouse. 

Despite the BLM’s multiple-use mandate and own stated priority ‘to ensure that [the federal oil and gas program] serves the public interest and restores balance on America’s public lands and waters,’ for decades, the BLM has prioritized the oil and gas program over all other uses of public lands. Further, BLM’s own and independent analysis found the public lands currently prioritized for oil and gas leasing have low or very low development potential but the threat remains and is very real after proposed new oil and gas leasing in 2018. As a result, an out–of-state fracking oil and gas corporation with no track record did acquire a leased area in the Tendoy Mountains – a high-quality wildlife habitat area – noncompetitively, for just two dollars per acre. The proposed greater-sage grouse protections could rectify these existing inconsistencies by finally ending the existential threat of oil and gas leasing on public lands in Southwest Montana, a move that has widespread community support.

It its letter, Waterkeeper recommended the BLM advance “Alternative 3” as proposed in the Draft EIS for management of greater sage-grouse habitat and close all non-grouse habitat in the region to oil and gas leasing and development, as oil and gas leasing and development outside of sage-grouse habitat will indirectly impact habitat within identified management areas. If the BLM is unwilling to do so, Waterkeeper urges the bureau to defer all oil and gas leasing on non-grouse habitat in the Upper Missouri Watershed.

Waterkeeper’s comment highlights how industrial oil and gas leasing and development is inconsistent with historical, traditional, cultural, and current uses of public lands. Continued oil and gas leasing and development would undermine hunting and angling in Beaverhead County, which generates more than $167 million each year for the regional economy and was responsible for the creation of over 1,400 jobs, accounting for over 12% of the county’s entire workforce. Beaverhead County is also home to nearly 500 family farms and ranching businesses, generating some $147 million in gross revenue and $31 million in realized farm income according to the latest statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By rectifying the bureau’s inconsistencies and ending oil and gas leasing and development, the BLM will in turn protect critical greater sage-grouse habitat and remove the threats posed from the federal oil and gas program on our rivers, drinking water supplies, local businesses, and economies.