Thursday, May 11, 2006

Endangered ferret land on the oil auction block today

Photo courtesy National Park Service


An area of northwestern Colorado that is the only home of the endangered black-footed ferret in the state will have its gas and oil extraction rights auctioned off today.

The area of the BLM where hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to reintroduce the small prairie predator will go to the highest bidder and may soon be a network of drill pads, slag pools and roads that may drive the already struggling local population to extinction. Many of these ferrets were raised at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Here's an abridged presss release I just got from Center for Native Ecosystems:

CRAIG, CO – The land supporting Colorado's successful reintroduction of endangered black-footed ferrets will be leased to oil and gas drillers by the Bureau of Land Management on May 11, threatening the ongoing recovery effort on the very day Congress has designated as Endangered Species Day in the United States.
The 20 parcels in Rio Blanco County will be leased to the highest bidder Thursday, overriding concerns from state and federal wildlife biologists, local governments and conservation groups about the potential impact oil and gas development will have on North America's most endangered mammal.

"The Colorado BLM is gambling with the ferret's future,” said Erin Robertson, staff biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “Is this really how Colorado wants to celebrate Endangered Species Day?"

In addition, the BLM will also auction off land currently undergoing Resource Management Plan (RMP) revisions, including lands within the Little Snake Resource Area. RMPs serve as the management guidelines for use of public lands including outlining whether oil and gas drilling, if any, is allowed.

“BLM should not be offering massive lease sales, likely to lead to thousands of new gas wells, until the agency completes its plan.” said Pete Kolbenschlag of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “By leasing land currently undergoing RMP revisions, BLM is on shaky ground in regards to legal obligations that govern how the RMP process should proceed. The cart is way before the horse on this.”

Colorado Environmental Coalition, Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Wilderness Network, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Mountain Club, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance have submitted a formal protest to BLM challenging the inclusion of a portion of sale parcels including black-foot ferret reintroduction habitat, acres undergoing RMP revisions, and wilderness-quality lands that have been proposed for wilderness protection.

“BLM has demonstrated that it can and will pull inappropriate parcels from a lease sale,’ stated Vera Smith of the Colorado Mountain Club. “There is still time for BLM to do the right thing and remove the remaining protested parcels that have important wildlife and recreation values.” This rush to drill draws additional concern due to the fact that Colorado has a surplus of lands already leased for oil and gas development that remain unused. “In Colorado alone 70 percent of the federal public lands leased for oil and gas development are not in production,” continued Smith, referencing a 2004 leasing report by The Wilderness Society. “Of the over 4.4 million acres already leased, only 1.3 million are in production. That is over a 3 million acre surplus.”

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