No More Raw Deals for Public Lands
Let’s put an end to a 100-year-old policy that is wasting government resources and taxpayer money and endangering what we love about public lands
In early 2020, the Bureau of Land Management released a resource management plan (RMP) for 650,000 acres of public lands in central Montana administered by the agency’s Lewistown Field Office. Spanning from the Rocky Mountain Front to the Musselshell River breaks, this area includes some of the last intact prairie grasslands in the U.S., which make this part of Montana one of the most productive habitats in North America for big game and upland birds.
The Niitsitapi (Blackfeet), A'aninin (Gros Ventre), Nakoda (Assiniboine), Dakota (Sioux), Apsáalooke (Crow), Tsétsêhéstâhese and Só'taeo'o (Cheyenne), Néhinaw (Cree), and other Indigenous peoples have occupied this area for thousands of years.
Dismissing just how much Montanans cherish this area for its cultural significance, wildlife habitat, hunting opportunities, and unique beauty, the Department of the Interior under Sec. David Bernhardt tailored this RMP for the oil and gas industry, not for Montanans or other Americans. The plan will enable oil and gas companies to lease 95% of the area, even though it holds little oil and gas potential.
This will create a situation in which the BLM – already underfunded and understaffed – is bombarded with thousands of acres of noncompetitive oil and gas leases to process and monitor, leases that will almost certainly not lead to production, create any jobs, or serve any other public benefit. That’s time, resources, and knowledge taken away from all of the other things the BLM is obliged to do under its multiple-use mandate, such as habitat improvements, clean water monitoring, law enforcement, and maintenance of trails, trailheads, fishing access sites, boat ramps, and many other things that are critical for Montanans’ outdoor way of life.
Help us decrease the amount of oil and gas leasing on public lands
Thankfully, Sen. Tester introduced a bill in June, called the Leasing Market Efficiency Act, that will put an end to noncompetitive oil and gas leasing, which may serve as our best chance for ensuring that public lands in central Montana aren’t leased and for ensuring that taxpayers dollars meant for public lands actually benefit public lands.
What is noncompetitive oil and gas leasing?
The BLM regularly holds auctions in which oil and gas companies can bid on leases to drill on public land parcels that the agency has made available through its RMPs, such as the one covering central Montana. Leases that companies do not bid on during these auctions are then sold off the shelf for $1.50 an acre, and those leases can last as long as 10 years. This bottom-basement rate hasn’t been updated since the 1980s.
Those leases are almost always for parcels that hold little oil and gas potential, which means these parcels have a very slim chance of development and recovery that would produce meaningful revenue for local governments. Instead, these parcels almost always remain idle from development, but remain under private management.
Montana is ground-zero for noncompetitive oil and gas leasing. From 2014-2018, public lands in Montana accounted for 8% of all federally-managed public lands that were available for oil and gas leasing. But leasing on public lands in Montana nonetheless accounted for nearly 38% of all noncompetitive leasing nationwide.
Currently, more than 260,00 acres of public lands in Montana are controlled by mostly out-of-state and foreign oil and gas companies that engage in noncompetitive oil and gas leasing. Moreover, the time and resources that goes into managing this leasing take up time and resources that the BLM needs to properly manage public lands for the public, and that’s time and resources that American taxpayers are funding
Boom or bust, it doesn’t matter what the oil and gas market looks like. Speculators are buying up the leases in good economic times and bad. Administering those leases is a waste taxpayer money that the BLM should instead be using to fulfill its multiple-use mandate, money that should go to trailheads, trail maintenance, river access, quality wildlife habitat, clean water, and so many other things that we need for our outdoor way of life.
(photo by Tony Bynum)
Montanans and Other Americans are Losing Out
According to a study that Headwaters Economics conducted in 2016, big game hunting accounted for nearly $4 million in economic expenditure in four different hunting districts within the Lewistown planning area, with $3.8 million coming from elk hunting alone. This makes hunting one of the largest economic drivers in the county, one that Lewistown and other communities in this part of the state cannot afford to lose in a post-coronavirus economic recovery.
But noncompetitive leasing is putting that economy at risk by siphoning off the resources that keep that economy running – proper management of our public lands, protection of wildlife habitat, and ensuring public access remains.
What You Can Do
We need Sen. Daines, or whomever your senators are, to support this bill.
For more information on how you can get involved, contact Aubrey Bertram, MWA’s eastern Montana field director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.