BLM Oil Exemptions Undercut Sage Grouse Safeguards

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798

BLM Oil Exemptions Undercut Sage Grouse Safeguards

More Than 80 Waivers from Just 3 Field Offices Prompt Call for Inquiry and Lawsuit


Washington, DC — Even as Greater Sage-Grouse numbers plummet throughout the West, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to waive habitat protections for oil and gas operations, according to records obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In just three BLM Field offices, nearly 80 such exemptions were issued during the past four years.

BLM oversees more sage grouse habitat than any other entity. The three field offices are in Wyoming, home to a third of the remaining Greater Sage-Grouse and the most within its 11-state Western range. Yet, sage grouse numbers have been declining in the Cowboy State since 2016.

The exemptions (sometimes called “timing stipulations”) allow mainly oil and gas activity in areas set aside to protect sage grouse and various migratory raptors. The records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that from January 2018 through November 2021 –

    • BLM’s Rawlins Field Office (FO) granted 41 exemptions, 1 probable exemption, 5 denials and 2 withdrawals;
    • The Kemmerer FO granted 15 exemptions for oil and gas operations and pipelines, as well as telephone fiber optic cable with no indications of any denials; and
    • Rock Springs FO granted 24 exemptions, with 2 denials, 1 withdrawal and one inconclusive response.

“These records raise questions about the effectiveness of sage grouse protections if they are routinely waived,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting that these three field offices cover the southernmost tier of Wyoming, while another seven BLM Wyoming Field offices have yet to provide any documents. “Without centralized records the Resource Specialists and Biologists do not have the data to determine if the cumulative impact of the multitude of exemptions is harmful to the sage grouse.” On June 2, PEER filed an appeal against BLM to obtain records from the remaining field offices.

PEER is asking Interior’s Office of Inspector General to confidentially interview or survey BLM biologists who signed the exemptions and to audit BLM issuance of sage grouse exemptions agency-wide. In addition, PEER has written to BLM Director Tracey Stone-Manning requesting that BLM impose a moratorium on new exemptions until the practice has been evaluated.

The exemptions are supposed to be based upon findings of “no likely disturbance” by agency biologists. Nonetheless, estimates suggest that core sage grouse habitat is disappearing at a rate of about 1.3 million acres a year from a national base of 26 million acres.

“The Greater Sage-Grouse appears to be the victim of death by a thousand regulatory cuts,” added Rosenthal, pointing out that further declines will likely result in imposition of Endangered Species Act protections that will be far stricter than current safeguards. “BLM is on a disastrous course where it risks forfeiting further management discretion to court-ordered supervision.”

Besides widespread intrusion from oil and gas operations and wildfires, BLM figures show cattle grazing is also seriously degrading the health of the little remaining sage grouse habitat.


Read the PEER request to the IG

See PEER call for BLM moratorium on waivers

View summary of waiver documents (full records available upon request)

Look at BLM grazing impacts on sage grouse habitat

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