Environmentalist group protesting 23 BLM leases

Center seeks to protect prairie dogs, sage grouse

In an effort to protect the white-tailed prairie dog and greater sage grouse, a Denver environmental group has protested 23 recently auctioned Bureau of Land Management lease parcels in the Little Snake Resource Area.

The Center for Native Ecosystems filed the protest last Thursday, after the BLM's August auction.

"We're really looking at wildlife and protecting white-tailed prairie dog complexes, and a lot of the protests are because of sage grouse concerns," said Erin Robertson, a wildlife biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems.

The environmental group has previously filed petitions to list the greater sage grouse and white-tailed prairie dog.

Using sage grouse production area data compiled by the Colorado Division Of Wildlife, the Center for Native Ecosystems protested leases north of Craig and west of Colorado Highway 13. The organization protested a second scattering of leases in Sandwash Basin and Vermillion Basin, which combine to form 75,000 acres of prairie dog habitat, Robertson said.

Although stipulations to protect prairie dogs and sage grouse are included in the lease agreements, most stipulations contain exceptions that render them "meaningless," Robertson said.

For example, some of the leases the Center for Native Ecosystems protested to protect the sage grouse stipulate the BLM will notify the lessee of a potential closure period for development during mating season. However, the lease doesn't state what invokes the closure period, Robertson said.

On the same leases, it's stipulated the BLM can only ask the lessee to move proposed development by 200 meters or less. If the lessee has proposed drilling a well in the middle of sage grouse habitat, it's possible a 200-meter relocation won't be far enough to remove development from the habitat, Robertson said.

Whatever inadequacies the Center for Native Ecosystems may perceive in the lease stipulations, the BLM must follow nine federal laws when negotiating leases, BLM spokesman Steven Hall said.

"There's a pretty exhaustive set of regulations we abide by in all leasing situations ... This is a very regulated activity," Hall said, citing the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which mandates multiple use on federal lands, among other laws.

The BLM welcomes the input of organizations such as the Center for Native Ecosystems, Hall said. When such a protest is filed against a lease, the BLM field office that manages the land under protest has 30 days to respond. If the field office finds the protest is warranted, it will recommend the state office uphold the protest.

But the BLM has dismissed every protest the Center for Native Ecosystems has ever filed, Robertson said. She wasn't optimistic that these would be any different and said her organization likely would appeal the decision.

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