TRCP Files First Lease Protest in New Mexico; BLM Responds

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TRCP Files First Lease Protest in New Mexico; BLM Responds by Withdrawing 60,000-plus Acres from Sale

4/3/08

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish also protests BLM energy leases; energy development could harm endangered desert bighorn

WASHINGTON – Future hunting opportunities for desert bighorn sheep and a lack of coordination between state and federal agencies compelled the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to protest the April 16 BLM energy lease sale in New Mexico, the conservation group announced today. Subsequently, late yesterday afternoon, the BLM disclosed its decision to withdraw the protested acreage from the sale.

The first the TRCP has filed in the state, this week’s protest encompassed more than 60,000 acres of potentially suitable desert bighorn habitat adjacent to southern New Mexico’sCaballos Mountains. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) also protested the lease sale.

“The fact that the BLM recognized its mistake in New Mexico is encouraging for all of us who care about balanced administration of our fish and wildlife resources,” said TRCP Vice President of Policy Terry Riley, who lives in Tijeras. “Yet had sportsmen and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish not protested these leases, the public never would have known about the agency’s misstep. Despite the BLM’s commitment to manage the public trust, the message here is clear: Let citizens beware.”

The Caballos Mountains area is important to a rare but expanding population of desert bighorn sheep, listed in 1980 as a New Mexico endangered species and identified as a “species of greatest conservation need” in the state’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The NMDGF believes the Caballos Mountain bighorns to be part of one of the three desert bighorn populations known to exist in the state. The department’s recovery plan for the species requires recognition of three healthy populations before the species no longer is considered imperiled. Suitable habitat and conditions for sheep occupation are needed for recovery, and the Caballos Mountains provide suitable habitat.

“Both the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and sportsmen throughout the state clearly have a huge stake in actions that could affect range expansion and increases in population of the desert bighorn in New Mexico,” said TRCP Field Representative Ross Tuckwiller. “The species offers a once-in-a-lifetime hunting experience and generates substantial revenue for the department’s ongoing bighorn management effort.”

Efforts by the NMDGF to produce a comprehensive survey of the Caballos Mountain desert bighorn population could be hindered if the lands in question are leased for energy development. The April 16 sale is not supported by existing environmental analyses, and the resource management plan for the region has not been updated to acknowledge the existence of the Caballos Mountain herd.

“The BLM is required to manage public lands for the conservation of state-listed plants and animals, with state laws protecting these species applying to all BLM programs and actions,” said Riley, a former member of the New Mexico State Game Commission. “Nevertheless, the agency failed to consult Game and Fish about how the April 16 lease sale could compromise bighorn recovery objectives. This flies in the face of the BLM’s recent commitment to work with Game and Fish on energy-related matters and improve the status of the bighorn in New Mexico.”

“Oil and gas development has proved to be detrimental to other big-game species throughout the Rocky Mountain region,” said Steve Belinda, manager of the TRCP energy initiative and a former BLM biologist. “These deferrals by the New Mexico BLM only call attention to the inconsistent management being perpetuated by BLM offices across the West. Why are leases pulled in some states and sold in others? We need to take a long, hard look at our leasing process and ensure that it truly serves the needs and interests of fish, wildlife and all Americans.”

The TRCP believes that to better balance the concerns of fish and wildlife in the face of accelerating energy development, federal land management agencies must follow the conservation tenets outlined in the FACTS for Fish and Wildlife, a set of principles to guide energy development on public lands.

Media Contact:
Ross Tuckwiller (304) 667-8987 or rtuckwiller@trcp.org
 


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