BLM Agrees to Reconsider Allowing Oil & Gas Drilling Activities in Critical Wildlife Habitat

BLM is currently taking public comment

Santa Fe-The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed to reconsider its allowing oil and gas drilling activities in critical wildlife habitat in Northwest New Mexico. BLM is currently taking public comment on whether to allow exceptions to rules that protect wildlife during key breeding and wintering periods.

Pollution, noise, and physical barriers like pits and trenches from oil and gas drilling and construction activities severely endanger wildlife like elk, pronghorn and deer during winter when wildlife are already facing challenges to survival. While BLM adopted seasonal closures of public lands in New Mexico to oil and gas activities to protect wildlife, it has allowed these seasonal closures to be systematically violated due to pressure from the oil and gas industry and the Republican administration’s Energy Plan. WildEarth Guardians, a west-wide conservation group, reviewed the government’s own documents and found nearly 1,000 breaches of seasonal closures in New Mexico, including 441 in the northwestern portion of the state.

In May of this year, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in federal district court against BLM over the agency’s allowing breaches of seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. In July, BLM sent out a letter indicating that it was reconsidering the granting of permission to oil and gas companies to breach the seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. BLM is taking public comment on its reconsideration until August 20th. A copy of BLM’s letter, which includes the address to mail public comments, can be found at: http://ga4.org/guardians/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=26333625

Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians’ Wildlife Program Director, said: “BLM promised the public that wildlife would enjoy increased protection from oil and gas drilling during critical winter periods but has routinely broken that promise. Hopefully BLM will provide wildlife more of the protection it needs, rather than allowing a mad rush to drill our public lands.” In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and members of the New Mexico Game Commission have voiced concerns over the BLM’s pattern of allowing exceptions to wildlife closures.

In an earlier lawsuit in 2005, WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance sued the BLM over allowing exceptions to timing restrictions designed to protect lesser prairie-chickens in southeast New Mexico. The lesser prairie-chicken is an imperiled bird that has been a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection for over a decade. The lawsuit was settled with the requirement that BLM conduct surveys for the bird and solicit public comment prior to allowing those exceptions. Since the settlement, fewer than 10 exceptions have been granted annually in lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

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