This scenic, remote and delicate badland basin, part of the Willwood Formation, containing the most comprehensive vertebrate fossil layer of any strata in the world, is a vast sagebrush, salt desert. Around the periphery of this basin, weathering by wind and water has created a rugged landscape with rock mushrooms, spires, arches, goblins, castles and mud caves. Streams in the bottom of the Fifteen Mile Basin support broad grassy meadows and cottonwood galleries and mule deer and pronghorn rely on this area to survive the winter. The basin is home to white-tailed prairie dogs, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, golden eagles, badgers, bobcats, foxes and coyotes.
The majority of the Fifteen Mile Basin remains unleased and is largely in pristine condition. We flew over three Wilderness Study Areas; Red Butte, Sheep Mountain, and Bobcat Draw Badlands. Mineral exploration and development in these areas would potentially eliminate opportunities for solitude and undermine their scenic value. Citizens are asking the BLM to protect the area from oil and gas exploration and development. Rendering the Fifteen Mile Basin unavailable to oil and gas leasing would link together three Wilderness Study Areas and provide a large wild area for citizens to explore, hunt, and find solitude.
As part of the process of updating the Resource Management Plan for the Bighorn Basin, citizens inventoried lands with wilderness characteristics and submitted them to the BLM to be included and managed for their wild values.
Citizen groups also identified parcels to be included in a Master Leasing Plan process. Master Leasing and Development Plans (“MLPs”) are a key component of BLM’s new oil and gas leasing reforms. They are designed to help BLM identify, evaluate and resolve conflicts between oil and gas activity and important resource values, such as wilderness and wildlife habitat, across broad geographic landscapes. If developed and implemented properly, MLPs should create greater certainty for industry, since BLM will have identified and addressed potential resource conflicts prior to the leasing and development stages. This should result in fewer protests from the public, while assuring that measures are in place to protect wildlife habitat, wilderness and other important resources of the public lands.
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