The Bureau of Land Management is sacrificing the wilderness qualities of thousands of acres in western Colorado by granting oil and gas leases on South Shale Ridge, Earthjustice attorney Keith Bauerle argued today (6/28/2007) in federal district court.
Earthjustice, representing a coalition of conservation groups, is suing BLM to keep its promise of protecting this pristine area’s wilderness, wildlife, and natural beauty from oil and gas development.
In agreeing to allow leasing the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Federal Land Management and Policy Act, Bauerle said.
South Shale Ridge features multicolored badlands with remarkable geological formations hidden within miles of twisting canyons. The area is popular for backcountry recreation such as hiking, and its wildlife provides good opportunities for hunting. In addition, South Shale Ridge is home to the bald eagle and extremely rare plants.
BLM management plans were criticized 20 years ago because they didn’t account for the area’s wilderness, recreational, and biological values. In 1998, BLM initiated a multiyear review process led by a committee of citizens, interest groups, and agency professionals.
BLM’s official findings in 2001 recommended that South Shale Ridge be reconsidered for protection as a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM then publicly committed to amending its 1987 management plan to account for and properly mange South Shale Ridge’s wilderness features.
For years there has been strong, consistent public support for protecting South Shale Ridge from industrial development. In 2004 nearly 9,000 citizens sent comments urging BLM to protect the area for its wilderness, recreational, and biological values. Yet in November 2005 BLM leased almost the entire area for oil and gas drilling.
Meanwhile, BLM continues to lease millions of acres of public lands. As of January 2004, BLM had issued more than 4378 leases in Colorado alone, amounting to over 3.4 million acres of Colorado public lands.
In this suit, Earthjustice represents the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and Colorado Mountain Club.
Read the arguments