Buffalo RMP "Preferred Alternative" Not Enough to Conserve Greater Sage-Grouse, Says Leading Bird Group
Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210,
(Washington, D.C., September 25, 2013) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups, asserted today in a comment letter to the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that the proposed Buffalo resource management plan (RMP) for BLM-administered land in parts of northern Wyoming would lead to continued declines in Greater Sage-Grouse populations, and as drafted would not change the likelihood of the species being added to the Endangered Species list.
“We are concerned that the management alternative currently preferred by BLM, alternative ‘D,’ does not adequately protect sage-grouse habitat and ignores recommendations from a host of scientific studies,” said ABC Senior Policy Advisor Steve Holmer. ABC is supporting a different alternative, known as alternative ‘B,’ which emphasizes conservation of natural and cultural resources while providing for compatible development and use. This alternative allows for some development while conserving more land area and designating significant acreage as a “Greater Sage-Grouse Area of Conservation and Environmental Concern.”
The Buffalo RMP totals approximately 782,000 surface acres in Wyoming’s Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan counties—including important breeding areas for the imperiled grouse species—as well as 4.8 million acres of subsurface federal mineral estate.
“Decision-makers did a good job of identifying opportunities to protect the sage-grouse and large blocks of habitat in the Buffalo RMP, but they now need to include these measures in the final preferred alternative. The species really won’t stand much of a chance without the safeguards of the conservation-focused alternative B and designated protected areas,” Holmer said.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Buffalo RMP finds that the planning area has already been heavily impacted by energy development, which fragments and disturbs Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. A total of 1,773 new oil and gas wells, 2,721 new coal bed natural gas (CBNG) wells, and 785 miles of new roads are projected in the planning area. There are also 16,853 non-federal CBNG wells within the planning area with another 3,253 projected, along with 1,944 conventional wells and another 1,875 on the way.
The differences in resource extraction allowable under the conservation and preferred alternatives are striking:
- Alternative B recommends 618,256 acres for withdrawal from mineral entry, but only 115,614 acres were proposed for withdrawal in preferred alternative D. Similarly, coal leasing would be closed on 4,072,115 acres and open on 715,388 acres under alternative B; preferred alternative D keeps 4,775,136 open.
- Oil and gas drilling would have stricter limits in alternative B, with 2,612,920 acres administratively withdrawn from fluid mineral leasing (including priority Greater Sage-Grouse habitat), 124,467 acres subject to moderate constraints, and 642,232 acres subject to major restraints. Preferred alternative D makes 101,214 acres unavailable and puts moderate restraints on 2,753,125 acres and major constraints on 292,098 acres.
- For mineral leasing, alternative B opens up 193,060 acres, while preferred alternative D would open more than 20 times more land (4,244,144 acres). For salable minerals, the same disparity exists—a greater than 20-fold difference. Alternative B would have 129,430 acres open, with closure or restrictions on 1,663,422, while preferred alternative D would have 2,957,960 open and 390,162 acres closed or restricted.
BLM’s Buffalo Field Office announced the release of the draft Buffalo RMP (which will replace the 1985 Buffalo RMP) and supporting EIS for a 90-day public review on June 28. The comment period closes on Thursday, September 26.
Click on maps for larger image
Management alternatives for the Buffalo RMP would have greatly different impacts. These maps show the availability of BLM-managed land in Wyoming that would be open or closed to fluid mineral leasing under preferred alternative D (left) and conservation-focused alternative B (right).
The land shaded in either light/dark orange or yellow would be open for fluid mineral leasing, though some restrictive conditions may be applied. The red or burgundy-colored lands would be closed to fluid mineral leasing. The preferred alternative could result in leasing levels over 20 times higher than in the conservation alternative, with potentially far greater impacts to sage-grouse populations.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.