Don’t Let Congress Silence Sportsmen

Pronghorn in a field
Pronghorn on BLM land in New Mexico. Source: flickr user BLM New Mexico
Public land use is a balancing act. Developing oil and gas resources on public lands requires careful planning and robust conversations. Hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts depend on public lands for outstanding outdoor experiences and these sportsmen contribute significantly to the outdoor recreation economy. Their voices need to be heard in the oil and gas leasing process to ensure that development does not happen at the expense of other activities. Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to silence sportsmen; today they passed legislation that cuts these very voices out of the oil and gas leasing process.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees our nation’s mineral resources on public lands. Oil and gas companies can nominate parcels of land that have been deemed appropriate for development, and the BLM will conduct competitive leasing based on those nominations. The kicker is, often determinations as to which lands are “appropriate” are based on woefully out of date Resource Management Plans. For instance, seven BLM management plans in Colorado date back to the 1980s. This is when the ability for the public to comment is most important.

Speaking Up on Oil & Gas Leases

Sportsmen’s groups—such as Sportsmen for Renewable Energy Development—often play a key role in providing more up-to-date information on when and where oil and gas development should occur, so that extraction does not damage the lands they use. This group has worked collaboratively with the BLM to put in place a “look-before-you-lease” Master Leasing Plan in Colorado. MLPs and leasing reforms from 2010 give the BLM guidance to use an “informed, deliberative process” with open communication to the public. If H.R. 4899 passes the Senate in addition to the House, those reforms would come undone.

You can’t put a price on free speech, but that’s exactly what some in Congress want to do. One provision of this bill requires anyone protesting an oil and gas lease on public lands—the very lands we all own together —to pay a $5,000 fee. A recent BLM lease in Wyoming received handwritten protests and signatures from local residents. Requiring a fee of this magnitude would certainly price local voices like these out of the process.

One amendment to the bill goes even further and renders public comments on leases meaningless. Amendment No. 8 takes away the discretion of the Department of Interior and BLM to cancel or defer leases after public comments have been received, taking the public out of the process and giving private interests free rein. Even though the House passed this bill and amendment, there is still time for your voice to be heard as it heads to the Senate.

biker on mesa
BLM lands include recreation opportunities like the White Mesa Bike Trails in New Mexico. Source: flickr, BLM New Mexico

Channeling Our Energy on Energy

All of these actions seek out a solution to a problem that simply does not exist. The Department of Interior’s most recent report on the subject indicated that 21 million acres of onshore and 26 million acres of offshore leases, representing over half of all acres leased, are not currently in production or exploration.

Sidestepping public involvement to rush to lease more acres will not solve energy challenges. Instead, this bill would give the keys to our public lands to fossil fuel interests and cut out the voices of hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts who use our public lands every day.

Last year National Wildlife Federation released a report, “Valuing our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life” which documents how public lands are critical to the health of our economy and our communities.  The evidence of the value of public lands and the value we place on them is well documented.  Now we just need our elected leaders to listen.

Speak Up for Your Right to Speak Up

Take ActionIf you want to tell Congress that you value your public lands, sign our petition telling them to stop targeting our public lands.