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March 26, 2008

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Conservation Column: A Call to Arms

From the April issue of Field & Stream

Call to Arms

A new push to harvest energy resources could harm 42 million acres  of wild land by the end of the year, and only sportsmen can stop it. By Bob Marshall

If there ever there was a time for sportsmen to make an impact, it is now. Hunters and anglers may be the nation’s last hope for stopping one of the largest public-land giveaways in history -- and a potential disaster for hunting and fishing in the West.

The issue is the Bureau of Land Management’s rush to complete dozens of Resource Management Plans (RMPs) across the West before the Bush administration leaves office. It is one of the most important conservation stories of the decade because the future quality of hunting and fishing in large parts of a half dozen states hangs in the balance.

RMPs are documents that establish how public lands managed by the BLM can be used. The process, which typically takes several years, allows for public comment at several steps along the way, including a 30-day period after the draft plan is published. Any person or group can recommend changes. While the agency must listen, it is under no legal obligation, however, to act on any requests. The final plan typically reflects the priorities of the administration.

Once in place, an RMP has the force of law. And although an RMP can be changed by a new administration, that process can take several years, a period during which the old rules remain in effect.

“Energy companies will have the right to explore virtually anywhere—and the impacts of that development on fish and wildlife will be a secondary consideration,” says Rollin Sparrowe, a director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). “I’m concerned that sportsmen have no idea how much land we’re talking about, how far-reaching and long-­lasting these plans will be.”

In fact, supreme authority on approximately 42 million acres of prime hunting and fishing habitat across the West could be handed to the energy industry for 15 to 20 years by the end of 2008. After that, an additional 8 million or more acres could be affected. The area stretches from Idaho and Montana south through Wyo­ming, Colorado, and Utah, and into New Mexico. It touches everything from blue-ribbon trout streams to legendary mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and grouse ranges.

Executive Bias
Sportsmen should not be surprised. President Bush publicly proclaimed his bias for the energy industry over wildlife in 2001 with Executive Orders 13211 and 13212, which turned decades of American public-land management on its head. Until then, companies wanting to turn a profit off public property had to show how their projects would impact fish and wildlife. After Bush’s orders, all activities on BLM lands—including fish and wildlife management—had to include a “statement of energy effects,” showing how they would impact energy. No impingement would be tolerated.

Conservation groups protested, but in the intervening years a rope-a-dope scenario has played out: While sportsmen and other conservationists were exhausting themselves slugging away at specific properties (such as the Trapper’s Point corridor in Wyo­ming and the Roan Plateau in Colorado), the BLM under the Bush administration was ­revising or amending up to 50 RMPs that would in essence cede long-term control over entire landscapes to the energy industry.

Now, the administration is sending a good-bye present to its oil and gas pals as it heads out the door. Last December the BLM began releasing the first of 25 RMPs that could be submitted this year.

“They’ve been working on these things since they took office, but we’re not getting a look at most of them until the final months,” Sparrowe says. “We have 30 days to protest each of these plans, but most of these things run thousands of pages. They cover huge amounts of land. It’s just staggering.”

The RMPs being written for the various BLM districts allow more than 90 percent of this public land to be available for drilling—and that drilling will take place under rules that make it extremely difficult to prevent serious damage to fish and wildlife habitat.

Wildlife advocates’ worst fears that RMPs being released would result in an explosion of drilling have proved accurate. According to a January Wilderness Society analysis of existing RMPs and announced projects, some 126,381 new oil and gas wells will be authorized over the next 15 to 20 years in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The impact on fish, wildlife, and sportsmen will be heavy.

“We’re talking about disruption of migration corridors, breeding areas, and other sensitive habitats for a wide range of mammals, birds, and fish,” Sparrowe says. “Look, we are not against all energy development. The nation needs fuel. But we know this can be done in a way that is much less damaging to fish and wildlife. We’re saying these are our public lands, and we have the right to demand that where development has to take place, it must take place in the least damaging way to fish and wildlife.”
That’s where hunters and fishermen come in.

The Voice That’s Heard in Washington
Mainstream environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society excel at the hard work of researching and gathering facts. But as that group’s Nada Culver points out, sportsmen are clearly the most capable of getting this administration’s ear.

“It is absolutely worth a hunter’s or angler’s effort to get involved in this,” she says. “They are the one group this administration will at least listen to.”

The importance of that point—and the nature of this fight—was driven home last year when the BLM released a list of lands for an energy-lease auction in southeastern Wyoming. Sportsmen who saw the list were shocked that it included a 28,000-acre section of the beautiful Saratoga Valley, encompassing the blue-­ribbon North Platte trout fishery as well as prime big-game and upland-bird hunting ranges. So they took action.

“We had just a few weeks, but we were able to organize an effective protest,” says Wyoming resident Dwayne Meadows, a field representative for the TRCP. “We had a ground­swell of opposition to this thing. Eventually we got the state rep and Gov. Dave Freudenthal to join with us.”

By December, the BLM had agreed to pull that section from the sale. But the victory lasted only until the draft of the new RMP for the region was released in January. “The local BLM guy called me to give me a heads-up that the new RMP would allow that section to be included in any future auction,” Meadows says.

“The way these RMPs are written,” he continues, “any time an oil company requests that any section of property be included in an auction, the local BLM office has to comply. We can protest again—and we might win again. But the next time a company wants that parcel, it will be listed again.”

Getting land permanently pulled from lease sales is the obvious solution. Although doing so is difficult, it’s possible—and those few victories have occurred thanks to the active support of hunters and fishermen. Culver says the BLM last year began considering special protection for a backcountry hunting unit in its Little Snake field area in northwestern Colorado. Since then, the agency has said it will include a similar exception in the Jarbidge (Idaho) RMP.

“These things would not have happened without the support of the hunting and fishing community,” Culver stresses. “If it becomes a trend, it will only be because of that involvement by hunters and anglers. They need to be involved.”

And they need to be involved now.

Sportsmen can find an excellent step-by-step explanation of the BLM planning process and future activities, with directions on how to get involved, at wilderness.org. An online petition is available on the TRCP website at ­responsiblesportsmen.org.



Right on. Way to nut up, Field & Stream. With a name like Bob Marshall, you gotta hope he can call a spade a spade when it comes to threats to our fish and wildlife.

Mike Diehl

Excellent post, Rob Marshall. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


I probably shouldn't comment because I live in the East and am totally unfamiliar with the BLM, its policies or its mandates. I know the U.S. Forest Service very well. They cannot usurp other forest use in favor of one special interest. I believe, but don't know for sure, that the BLM is run the same way.

Mankind is going to get one hell of an economics lesson in the near future. Is drilling for oil in the Gulf better than drilling on BLM? How about ANWR? Would we better off exploring there than on BLM? Are we better off with an increase in timber harvesting(renewable) than drilling for more oil?

I don't know the answers. I just pose the questions.

Mike Diehl

"They cannot usurp other forest use in favor of one special interest."

Actually, they can, and under this admin have done so. That is why so many RMPs are being assembled "under the radar." Public comment is not wanted because it runs contrary to special interests.


Yeah, we need to wait till gas gets to $5 or $10/gal before we tap our own resources. No wait lets plant more Corn and waste 200 gal water/gal of Ethanole, no wait lets give all our money to the United Nations so they can solve the Global Warming problem by placating 3rd world dictators who don't pay any attention to the treaty's they signed to limit carbon emmissions. At least Bob Marshal has the right initials for the stuff he puts out.


Mike Diehl:
I believe that there are remedies in the courts for this. I honestly don't know. I've never been exposed to BLM policy.

What I failed miserably to say was that, we're faced with a lot of choices right now. Do we drill more oil wells? Where do we drill these wells? Off the Florida Coast? ANWR? Or, should we just forget gas and fuel oil and use bio energy. Economics involves choices and it appears that we have many difficult choices to make!


Well in my case I don't travel hardly anywhere. So I would say don't drill and save what wilderness is left. I have hunch that if we do drill and destroy all this land that's left we are gonna come out with some form of transportation that doesn't require gas/oil. Then we'll all be sitting here with no where to hunt and fish saying what the hell did we just do. You can't replace that amount of land once it's gone. And if they do destroy it I feel sorry for all you guys in the west with no where to hunt. How come Canada can seem to manage their country so much better. I go up there every year to Quebec for a fishin' trip (my biggest travel of the year) and they have the most spectatcular land and forests. They log the forests but then let the forests grow back again instead of developin' it. Sure their gas prices aren't the cheapest but you don't see them destroyin' 42 million acres of wild land. At least they don't where I go. People in this country panic and make stupid choices that's how we got into this stupid situation in the first place. Maybe the government should regulate the oil companies a little better before they destroy more land. The evenin' news report just said that the oil companies have hit the record books in profits. Hmmmmmm, I wonder why? But lets not regulate what they do let's go take more land and make more wells. That is a temporary fix anyway. They originally said the gass prices are high here in NY do to the Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans. Ya that's a joke prices are higher here then they were when katrina hit. Bush is an oil man and he wont stop the money from flowin' into the oil companies pockets. But hey drill some more and whatch nothin' happen. I feel really bad for the younger generations. I don't have 10 years left in me so who knows what will happen when were gone. There will probably be a shortage of timber! Oh wait didn't we just log and waste 42 million acres of trees? But that's just my take.


Mike Diehl

@Yoop -

I agree that these are choices we have to make. But we definitely have to way gains and losses in doing it. My understanding of ANWR is that if we pumped out all the oil your ordinary American would save about 4 cents over the lifetime of the field. That's not 4c per gallon, nor 4c per day. That's 4c. Mostly on account of subsidies to big oil. It's not worth doing, IMO. Likewise, we absolutely need BLM and USFS lands that are excluded from mineral exploration and extraction. Remember our conversation about hunting access?

I think there are good solutions already available. Thermal solar is now viable and cost effective, and photovoltaics are within 10 years of being really cheap. We should also use n-plants and recycle the spent fuel rods. We could wean ourselves from primary reliance on fossil fuels and still have a clean environment with lots of acreage for sportsmen if we are willing to just up and do it. But that won't happen so long as special interests continue lobby Federal policy to treat taxpayer owned land as disposable resources.


Some good points you make, but I can't agree with all of them. I don't think we'll have a timber shortage but I think you were joking around there. I personally don't want the land removed either. I have a feeling that we will regret it in the future. Eventually even with new gas wells the world will run out of oil. How long it takes is anyones guess. It takes a while for oil to form under ground. So then we will have no forests or gas, what a world we live in. Man is finally to good for its own game. We ruined what we have the day we got to smart. If you know what I'm saying.



Your last points are right on. We as humans created this mess for ourselves. We're the ones who made a piece of paper so valuable (money). Who is the person that said you need this piece of paper inorder to do anythin'. You can't do a singe thing without paying someone for it. And why, because we humans said so. But why? Why can't we just live a life and not worry about standards. Everyone works to earn a piece of paper (money), then you go spend that piece of paper on gas and food to go to work and get more paper. It trully is messed up. But we humans did this to ourselves. And they call us the smartest creatures on earth. Deer seem to live a happy life and not worry about money or gas. Just what's to eat today or what predators are around.



Supply and demand. That's how prices are determined. If you restrict the supply of oil, the price will rise with demand. If, with rising demand, you want lower prices, you can increase the supply of oil, or you can reduce the demand for oil by substituting other energy sources. That's where we are now.

You say that it doesn't affect you because you don't travel much. Do you buy anything from stores? How do you heat your home? Even if I pledge never to drive my truck again, I still need fossil fuels.

he western half of Michigan's Upper Penisula is honeycombed with abandoned mine shafts. The adits, for the most part, are sealed, and the poor rock piles are slowly being crushed and used for road fill. Strip mines are another matter. Nature by itself does a nice job on shaft mines but strip mines take a lot of money and sweat to reclaim.

Our Governor called for the Feds to take Exxon-Mobil's "excessive" profits. She was nearly impeached. Apparently, a big chunk of the state retirement fund is in that stock. Things change a bit when you're taking money from your neighbor, rather than some big corporation.



I never said it doesn't affect me, but rather not in vehicle transportation (not as much as others). Plus I heat my house with a wood burnin' stove, I trully have no furnace. Yes it does cost gas to fill the chain saw but not that much. And if you want the full truth the state has put a SMALL gas well in my neighbors field. He gets a discount on gas, so I pay him a lower amount then normal for gas and he gets my gas. So I guess I benefit from his gas well. and for food, being alone I don't need or consume as much as large families, so when I do go to the store I buy a lot of food and i mean a lot. That way I don't have to shop as often.



We're stuck with money. If we regressed to a barter society, how would people who paid into Social Security get theirs?

The greatest disappointment I have with GWB is the failure to develop a coherent energy policy. I'm sure that congress had a lot to do with it.

In my mind, certain engines can use any fuel, other engines must be more selective. Electric power can be generated using any fuel. That would include nuclear, coal, wood, oil, natural gas, wind and solar. Why do we use fuel oil to generate electricity? Apparently agri-fuel is a virtual energy swap. Why spend 1000 gallons of diesel to make agri-fuel that replaces 1000 gallons of diesel, and potentially starves people in the process.

I think I would rather see some exploitation of BLM resources rather than see another hydroelectric dam. We have some choices, i just don't know which are the best choices.


Not that the whole money situation is bad, but it always seems funny to me how it all came to be and how dependent we have become on it. Plus it's never gonna change and we just got to get used to it. But lookin' back on my life and how things didn't require so much money and then look at today, well it just amazes me and makes me think how long can we last like this. and that's a question that can never be answered by our generations.


Mike Diehl

"I'm sure that congress had a lot to do with it."


"Why spend 1000 gallons of diesel to make agri-fuel that replaces 1000 gallons of diesel, and potentially starves people in the process."


"We have some choices, i just don't know which are the best choices."

I've studied it enought to come up with my own conclusions. I like nukes, solar and wind. Here in AZ solar works really really really well. Probably wouldn't work everywhere, but we have plenty of marginal hunting land (in the form of publically owned state trust land) that would be great for solar arrays. For me the choice is an easy one: drill in a national forest vs build a solar array in creosote covered scrubland? I'll take the solar array every time.


Wind farms could cause Whooping Cranes to become extinct. I don't know the depth of the problem. It was an article in our local paper. I know its been a problem elsewhere. Solar looks good, but it looks a lot better for you than me. I like the nukes but I do remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

I'm not prepared to throw anything out at this point. Remember last week, there was a blog about eliminating the Salmon Season? I think that has a lot to do with hydroelectric dams.


I live in one of the areas referenced in the article and actually worked on getting that backcountry hunting protections into the Little Snake RMP in Colorado.

I want to clear up a few things. One, we are talking about natural gas development. The only new significant oil plays are in central Utah. Currently, natural gas is utilized for electricity production and home heating, not personal vehicles.

Secondly, this boom is not being driving by supply and demand economics. The oil and gas markets are driven by speculation not need. In fact, last year natural gas producers were scrambling to find repositories for surplus gas while at the same time drilling more wells, setting more pipelines and fighting nearly every conservation measure imaginable. In Colorado alone, over 70% of the leases that industry controls have not been developed. Nonetheless, BLM continues to lease lands with antiquated and often inqdequate wildlife protections.

Most importantly, we are talking about development on a scale never before seen in the west. Just south of where I sit, BLM plans to permit up to 22,000 natural gas wells to be developed. To the North thousands upon thousands of wells are planned for Wyoming's Red Desert and to the west thousands more in Utah's Uinta Basin.

Why does this matter to sportsmen?

Because NW Colorado is home to the two largest herds of elk in N. America and the largest mule deer herd in N. America. The greater-sage grouse, once an icon of the West is on the brink of extirpation and everyday more and more wildlife habitat is destroyed and degraded across the West.

These are the areas that the dream hunts of my youth took place. These are the areas where an eastern hunter can come out stalk bugling elk on public lands in DIY fashion and succeed. Providing a campfire story that he can pass along to his grandkids about the majesty of the Rockies looming overhead as he stalked a monarch bull all while the pungent smell of sage filled the air.

Northwest Colorado (or any other area for that matter) should not be forced to serve as a energy colony for the rapacious appetites of eastern cities. Neither I, nor anyone, should not have to forsake our natural heritage and the opportunities for our children to hunt and fish the same draws and gulches that we have enjoyed, just so a few companies can handsomely profit.

Where it is appropriate, we can develop the resources in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. However, we need more sportsmen to speak up before the public lands of the intermountain west are lost to future generations due to an ill-thought out frenzy of development.


I disagree in that; if natural gas were not available, I would be forced to buy anoil furnace and compete with semis for their fuel. Also, if I'm considering conversion from heating oil to LPG or Nat. Gas, I want to know that supplies are plentiful. People who convert from oil cease to compete with diesel.

Now, when the BLM leases these exploration areas, can these explorers post all of that land? How about when they drill a gas well. How much area do they need for each well? It seems to me, they would need around an acre to develop the well, and an access road. Once the well is depleted, the site could be restored.

I don't know a lot about this. I do know that we have an energy crisis.


Sorry guys but Oil exploration and natural gas wells are not High impact Disaters. We have lots of Oil and Gas wells in S. Texas and the Game thrives around them. It does open up areas with roads that very few people have seen but it also provides lots of jobs and has saved whole towns that would have been dead otherwise. BTW Oil is actually plentiful but refinment capacity is fixed. We need more refineries asap. Nobody builds them because of the red tape involved. Anwr need to be opened up. If anybody thinks that Big Oil profits should be siezed they need to move to Mexico and see how well that worked for them. That is UnAmerican as it gets.

Matt Mallery

I hear a lot of talk about choices. Here are some. Let's choose to drive more full efficient vehicles. Let's choose to hike rather than ride around on ATVs. Let's choose to kayak and canoe rather than chooseto buzz around in motorboats. Let's choose to recycle more and consume less. Let's choose to use less resources and choose not to destroy ANWR. As far as using Texas as an example,Texas is a great example of how to do everything bwrong when it comes to public lands and the environment. All the rivers are damned, the bison are gone except for some pets on ranches. High game fences, mass urban sprawl, only 5% public land, exotic species behind game fences, etc.


Matt Mallery
I think everyone is conserving, if only because of price. The killer,IMHO, is the diesel fuel price. That fuel basically runs our economy. I would hope that all power plants are weaned from that fuel and converted to coal, biomass or other fuel so that diesel can be used where only diesel can be used.


Matt Malley,
Texas is a net energy EXPORTER. If we shut off the Natual Gas Pipe lines, most of the east coast would have frozen this winter. About 80% of all the refineries in the US are located in TEXAS. The rivers are dammed to produce ELECTRICITY and to hold back flood waters so we can use it for municiple use when we need it. We also produce 80% of all the Beef consumed in the US. The Bison were gone 125 years ago...market hunters from the EAST. If we were our own Country we would have the 7th largest economy in the WORLD. It is true that we have Exotic game ranches, and there are 50 plus different species to be hunted. We have species that the ONLY huntable population in the world exists in Texas. You seem to want public lands that nobody but a selct few can access. Of What use is that?


Mike Diehl,

We seem to always be on opposite sides of the coin?
You speak of solar energy arrays!?
How large an "array" to produce one (1) KWH?
You easily "give away" creosote covered "scrub land". Are there not wildlife species that survive and thrive in those environments?
I have seen the "Windmill Farms" of California and western Texas! My initial reaction was one of awe and inspiration. That is, until I noted the roads cut through, around and across the areas and the scenery blocking windmills and the hundreds of thousands of acres covered with the things. My question to myself at that point was: How many oil (fossil fuel) wells would be necessary to produce the same energy!?
First, I admit that the 'mills can generate electricity well into the future!
Second, seldom do you see more than 1/3 or so of the 'mills actually operating. They just sit there and occupy space!
Third, once a "well" is no longer "productive", the area can be cleaned up and returned to a natural state! If a 'mill becomes "non-productive", it will be replaced with "another" scenery chewing monster!
Maybe fossil fuels are not the "total" answer, but until technology comes up with something other than "bio-diesel", give me OIL!

P.S. As of January, this year, I heat my home with wood!


I read an earlier comment that supply drives demand in the energy industry. So true. Realize that once an oil company has purchased drilling rights on Federal land, they own the product, the Fed. government only gets a small royalty. So they are free to sell their extracted product to any market they want. And where is the demand greatest for oil in world? Think China and India. Just because it comes out of US ground doesn't mean it goes into your vehicle.

P.S. I ain't buying for a minute the claim that 80% of the beef consumed in this country comes from Texas. Several years ago I saw some Dept of Ag stats that made Louisiana and Florida top beef producers. And don't discount imported beef from Argentina etc. That just sounds like me Texas bragging to me.

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