Amodei Slams BLM Over Oil and Gas Lease Decision

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A Nevada congressman is slamming the
Bureau of Land Management over its decision to pull 33 parcels from
an upcoming oil and gas lease sale because of concerns about sage
grouse habitat.

Wildfires, not energy or mining operations in the state, are the biggest threat to the chicken-size bird, which are under consideration for federal wildlife protections, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei argued. He is a former president of the Nevada Mining Association.

"The sage grouse are not threatened by energy projects or mining operations, which comprise less than 1 percent of Nevada's land area," Amodei said in a statement. "Such delays needlessly halt conventional and renewable energy projects that can create jobs and power the growth of Nevada's economy."

The federal agency and others counter that the possible listing of sage grouse as an endangered species would have far-reaching economic consequences.

"Congressman Amodei is correct that wild land fire is an impact to sage grouse habitat," BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said Friday. "But basically any disturbance on lands where there are sage grouse leks or what we are identifying as preliminary priority habitat for sage grouse can pose a threat."

Leks are sage grouse mating areas where, during spring courting, males puff out their chests and do an elaborate dance to attract females. The birds are found in 15 or Nevada's 17 counties, with the most critical habitat found in the state's northeast quadrant, according to the state Department of Wildlife.

The BLM earlier this week reduced the number of parcels it will offer in the oil and gas lease sale to 42, down from 75, and cutting available acreage by nearly half to 72,000 acres. All of the withdrawn parcels are in the Elko and Ely districts - prime sage grouse habitat. The sale in Reno is scheduled Tuesday.

The oil and gas withdrawal comes after the BLM deferred a decision on the proposed China Mountain Wind Energy project on the Nevada-Idaho line until the agency completes an environmental impact statement on sage grouse. News of that delay was met with anger in Elko County, where one county commissioner said the prospect of high-paying jobs in the region could be killed by a "stupid bird," the Elko Daily Free Press reported.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined sage grouse warranted listing under the Endangered Species Act but that a listing was precluded because other species had a higher priority. In response to court challenges, the agency agreed to re-evaluate its finding in 2015.

The agency will then either issue a rule proposing to list the bird, "or we have to reverse our finding and say listing is not warranted," said Ted Koch, Nevada supervisor of the federal wildlife service.

In the meantime, states are trying to come up with their own plans to protect the bird and avoid a possible listing.

Around the West, officials fear a listing could have serious ramifications for ranching, mining, energy, and water development projects.

On its website, the state wildlife agency says "land use, economics, water use and recreational activities may be adversely affected" if the bird is listed.

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