BLM Oil Exemptions Threaten Sage Grouse in Wyoming
Groups Ask for Immediate Moratorium on Waiver of Habitat Protections
Denver, CO– Eleven major environmental and conservation organizations have asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to cease issuing waivers of habitat protections in Wyoming until the agency can assess the impacts to sage grouse habitat. BLM issues waivers, sometimes called “exemptions” that allow oil and gas and other industry activities in areas that have been set aside to protect sage grouse and migratory raptors.
Documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Western Watersheds Project show that the field offices of the Wyoming BLM granted approximately 90% of the 127 industry applications for exemptions from protective stipulations. These protective stipulations are designed to protect sage grouse by safeguarding the weeks when the birds breed and nest from outside disturbances. The “timing stipulations” create buffer zones around the leks and nests in sagebrush habitats and protect the sites of the bird’s unique and infamous breeding dances.
The Wyoming Bureau routinely grants these exceptions with no public process and no analysis of cumulative effects statewide. BLM is key to the species’ recovery as the agency oversees more sage grouse habitat than any other federal agency and BLM lands in Wyoming support far greater numbers of sage grouse than any other state. Sage grouse populations are extremely sensitive to human disturbance and have continued to steadily decline as sagebrush areas are degraded and their habitat is developed.
In a letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone Manning and Wyoming State Director Andrew Archuleta, the groups’ request an immediate moratorium on the issuance of further exceptions until the situation is remedied in the ongoing land-use plan revision process.
“This iconic bird, the keystone species for sagebrush habitats across the West, cannot survive death by 1,000 cuts,” said Chandra Rosenthal, PEER’s Rocky Mountain Director. “The BLM needs to stop routinely granting exceptions to the on-the-ground protections the sage grouse needs.”
In contrast to other states, Wyoming allows activities much closer to the bird nests, so the groups argue that the timing stipulations are even more important. Other states set buffers of 3.1 miles while in Wyoming industrial activities can be as close as 0.6 miles to the heart of nesting habitat. Wyoming allows 5% of the land to go under the bulldozer blade, almost twice the 3% allowed in every other state. Finally, when Wyoming prepared the sage grouse plan, they failed to include protections for hundreds of thousands of acres of highest-density sage grouse breeding habitats to allow industry development.
“Sage grouse were never granted adequate protection by the flawed plans the Bureau approved for Wyoming,” said Josh Osher, Public Policy Director for Western Watersheds Project. “The evidence presented today demonstrates exactly why the Bureau needs to chart a new path that will secure sage grouse habitat using the best available science and close the loopholes that are being exploited by the energy industry and local Bureau managers.”