WESTWISE 9-14-17 Trump Admin auctions off habitat

Sep 14, 2017
Ripped Off: Trump administration auctions imperiled sage-grouse habitat to oil and gas companies for pennies on the dollar

Utah auction pulls in less than the price of one Ford Focus

Jesse Prentice-Dunn


What’s more important to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — protecting Utah’s most endangered population of sage-grouse or leasing their habitat to oil and gas companies for pocket change? An auction held this Tuesday made the answer quite clear — nothing is more important than profits for oil and gas companies, even protecting imperiled wildlife.

Sage-grouse, a chicken-sized bird once widespread in the West, have seen their populations drop dramatically in recent years, thanks in part to oil and gas development. In an effort to keep the sage-grouse off the endangered species list — a move that would limit all forms of development throughout the region — ranchers, conservationists, Western governors and the Obama administration spent years working on collaborative plans to help the species rebound. Widely hailed as a success, the plans resulted in former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announcing that the sage-grouse would avoid the endangered species list. Unfortunately, this success story is under assault.

Greater sage-grouse mating dance

Citing the Trump administration’s “goals of promoting America’s energy independence,” the Bureau of Land Management put 15,000 acres of public land in Utah’s West Desert up for auction, with winners receiving leases to drill for oil and gas over the next decade. The West Desert is home to the most imperiled population of greater sage-grouse in Utah, whose numbers have plummeted from 190 in 2006 to 23 in 2015. Remarkably, four of the nine parcels put up for auction overlapped with “priority habitat management areas” laid out in the BLM’s own sage-grouse land use plans.

The results of BLM’s oil and gas auction were laughable. Only three parcels received any bids at all, each at the minimum level allowable — $2 per acre. All told, the auction netted less than $15,000. That’s right — the BLM allowed oil and gas companies to pay less than the cost of a single Ford Focus to threaten the most imperiled population of sage-grouse in the state of Utah.

Oil and gas development in Wyoming’s Jonah Field | EcoFlight

Sadly, this week’s BLM auction is just one part of the Trump administration’s plan to undo years of bipartisan efforts to conserve the sage-grouse. In June, Interior Secretary Zinke ordered his department to review sage-grouse plans with an eye towards modifying or scrapping them — a move opposed by Western governors of both parties. Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management has moved to sell oil and gas leases on prime sage-grouse habitat in other Western states, citing the Trump administration’s push for “energy dominance.”

After just over half a year on the job, Interior Secretary Zinke’s priorities are becoming increasingly clear — support oil, gas, and coal companies at all costs. In leasing prime habitat for bargain prices, Secretary Zinke has seemingly killed two birds with one stone, jeopardizing key sage-grouse populations while propping up oil and gas companies at the expense of American taxpayers.