The final programmatic environmental impact statement released Friday would make about 800,000 acres available for oil shale and tar sands production in northwest Colorado, southwest Wyoming and northeastern Utah. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development supports the BLM's move to require more research before issuing commercial leases on public land and believes it is prudent for companies with existing research parcels to show tangible results before additional land is leased.
While many important habitat areas were protected, some key greater sage-grouse habitats in Wyoming were opened to potential development, which is of concern, the coalition said. The National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnerships are the SFRED coalition's lead partners.
"We need to understand fully the trade-offs we are making before we seal the deal to commit a thousand square miles of public land to this risky business," said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife's public lands policy director. "If we don't, good air and water quality, fish and wildlife values could be lost forever."
The proposal revises a 2008 plan to open about 2 million acres of public lands in the three Rocky Mountain states to oil shale and tar sands development. The BLM took another look at the plan after challenges from several conservation groups.
"Colorado's Piceance Basin has the region's richest oil shale deposits and is also the heart of what's long been called the state's mule-deer factory," said Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. "The BLM has said oil shale and tar sands development might fragment or destroy wildlife habitat."
Northwestern Colorado was home to about 120,000 mule deer in the early 1980s, O'Neill said, but the population had dropped to about 50,000 by 2010.
"Culverts are significant impediments to fish passage and survival — just as significant as a major dam — but the solution is dramatically simpler, costs less, and the overall benefits to many watersheds is profound," said Dave Perkins, Vice Chairman of Orvis. "By removing these impediments, we not only add vital habitat for fish, but we also open many miles of fishable waters for anglers. We're proud to partner with TU in this effort to engage the fly-fishing community in support of this often overlooked opportunity to dramatically improve fish habitat across the country."
"Oil and gas drilling has increased substantially in the area and more development is planned," she added. "We don't know how much more pressure the herds can bear."
Hunters and anglers commend the Interior Department for taking a more prudent approach to oil shale and tar sands development, said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Center for Responsible Energy Development.
"We support responsible energy development," Arnett added, "but oil shale remains an unproven source of energy and we don't know how much water or electricity will be need to unlock the oil in the rocks."
The region's public lands are crucial for hunting, fishing and recreation, all sustainable, important parts of the economy, said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project
"The region's fish and wildlife populations are dependent on the availability of clean, cold water. Our water supplies in the West are too valuable to put at risk until the technology is better developed," Powell said.