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Protecting Our Public Lands

Two Medicine River from the Hall Creek trail.

Two Medicine River from the Hall Creek trail.

Photo courtesy of Gene Sentz

Earthjustice is fighting back against oil and gas, which threatens people’s health and the environment.

Our nation’s public lands, including important and vulnerable landscapes, are being threatened by destructive fossil-fuel driven energy development.

Encompassing 130,000 acres of national forest land adjacent to Glacier National Park, the Badger-Two Medicine region serves as a critical wildlife movement corridor and home for numerous rare and sensitive wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, harlequin ducks, and mountain goats. Unfortunately, the region also has long been a site of interest for fossil fuel development.

Earthjustice is protecting wild lands, roadless areas, wildlife habitat and other pristine public lands from destructive oil and gas development by:

  1. Demanding good stewardship. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are entrusted with the management of our public lands, but too often, they function more as champions of the oil and gas industry than as guardians of the public trust. We bring cases to compel federal agencies to account for the damage from oil and gas development—from air pollution to destruction of wildlife habitat to the loss of wilderness. And we push for decisions that avoid this damage, most enduringly, by putting sensitive lands off limits to development.
  2. Protecting treasured places. We work across the West and in the Arctic to stop oil and gas development that threatens some of our most iconic public lands, including:
    1. Utah’s Red Rock country. Earthjustice is working to keep oil and gas drilling out of spectacular wild Red Rock country that should be safeguarded for future generations as wilderness. Our litigation blocked the Bush administration from issuing dozens of leases near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and other iconic landscapes. We are currently challenging land use plans adopted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during the Bush administration that open 80 percent of the public lands in eastern Utah’s canyon country to oil and gas drilling and will serve as blueprints for the region if not overturned. We are also defending a lawsuit brought by the State of Utah that seeks to bar any protection of wilderness quality lands and to strike down BLM policies that offer some protection to lands from oil and gas leasing.
    2. Colorado’s Roan Plateau. The Roan Plateau is one of the most biologically rich areas in Colorado, and has been described by BLM and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as having a level of biodiversity matching several national parks and monuments. In 2012, our lawsuit overturned a Bush administration plan that leased all of the public land in the Roan Plateau for drilling. We are defending that victory on appeal and working with our clients at the administrative level to ensure that BLM adopts a new management plan for the area that gives the Roan the protection it deserves.
    3. Colorado’s Thompson Divide. Earthjustice is working to prevent drilling in the Thompson Divide, a pristine area of the White River and Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre National Forests that encompasses nine inventoried roadless areas. The Divide is home to elk, moose, mountain lion, lynx and cutthroat trout and is a favorite for hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing and other recreation. In 2003, BLM auctioned off large parts of the Divide at bargain basement rates, issuing leases that disregarded national roadless protections. We are working to force the termination of those leases and ensure they will never be drilled.
    4. The Rocky Mountain Front. Earthjustice is fighting aggressive gas industry efforts to spur a new “fracking” boom on the Rocky Mountain Front. Earthjustice is also stepping in to oppose development of an oil and gas lease in the region to prevent harm to scenic and ecologically important wild lands in the Badger-Two Medicine region of Montana, a critical component of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem.
    5. The Wyoming Range. The Range, with roadless areas and important habitat for lynx, was spared massive oil and gas leasing across nearly 160,000 acres due to our advocacy. We then blocked drilling on 44,000 acres of oil and gas leases in 2005 and 2006, but the Forest Service is now determining the fate of these leases. We continue to fight efforts to drill those lands.
    6. The Western Arctic Reserve. The Reserve is home to the nation’s largest caribou herd, polar bears, wolves and millions of migratory birds. Our decade-long litigation and advocacy has led to recent adoption of a management plan that puts pristine areas in the heart of the reserve around Teshekpuk Lake off limits to oil and gas drilling. We will protect these gains and seek to limit drilling in wildlife habitat and wild lands left unprotected in the plan.
  3. Stopping commercial-scale oil shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. “Oil shale” is a rock that must be superheated to release petroleum liquids trapped inside. While oil shale has never been commercially viable, the Bush administration sought to jump-start the industry by opening millions of acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to commercial oil shale development and setting bargain-basement royalty rates to subsidize industry. Commercial production of oil shale would consume huge amounts of water in the already overtaxed Colorado River basin, result in massive greenhouse gas pollution, and threaten strip mining in wild lands. Earthjustice filed suit in 2009, and reached a settlement that reduced the lands open to oil shale by more than half and put significant wild lands off-limits to leasing.