Conservation Scrapped, Climate Change Ignored
Interior prioritizes oil and gas, dismisses wildland protection in revised Lewistown area plan
The Bureau of Land Management yesterday released a second version of a resource management plan (RMP) draft directing how the agency’s Lewistown Field Office will manage 650,000 surface acres of public lands in central Montana over the next 20 to 30 years.
We’ve dubbed this area “the wild heart of Montana,” because it’s one of America’s last and largest intact prairie ecosystems, supporting one of the most productive populations of ungulates in North America and a thriving host of grassland bird species. It’s a remote and stunning place of buttes, breaks, and unbroken grasslands bordering the Upper Missouri River Breaks, the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, and the UL Bend Wildlife Refuge. The area epitomizes what makes Montana so special.
But the preferred management option the Department of Interior presents in the draft RMP released today would protect none of this area. Instead, the RMP would open up almost all of it to oil and gas development and other uses that would diminish the wild character, wildlife habitat, and everything else that makes central Montana so special.
Please take a moment today to write a comment telling the BLM and DOI why protecting the wild heart of Montana is more important than opening it up to oil and gas development. Please consider including these talking points in your personal comments. Express them in your own words and include your unique perspective, if possible.
The RMP released yesterday appears to have been concocted in some swampy D.C. backroom as a gift to the oil and gas industry, prioritizing energy development above all other uses and offering none of the conservation measures the 2016 draft did.
The RMP released yesterday is not the first version. The Lewistown Field Office completed the first version and sent it to the Interior Department for review in 2016. That version, which MWA obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, offered substantial protection for some of the last intact prairie in the United States and for some of the most productive big game habitat in North America.
But the department didn’t review the 2016 version until after President Trump took office. Under former Secretary Ryan Zinke and his deputy and successor David Bernhardt, the Interior Department trashed that original version of the RMP and its recommendations, recommendations that came about after a transparent public process that included local input, citizen surveys, and a healthy regard for what makes this part of Montana special.
The RMP released yesterday appears to have been concocted in some swampy D.C. backroom as a gift to the oil and gas industry, prioritizing energy development above all other uses and offering none of the conservation measures the 2016 draft did. The treatment this RMP received is not unique. It's part of a larger effort by the Department of the Interior to prevent or limit local land managers from managing some of our public lands for conservation values.
In its public scoping document, the Lewistown Field Office identified 200,000 acres of land in its planning area as having wilderness characteristics, including West Crooked Creek, Dovetail, Cottonwood, Carter Coulee, Horse Camp Trail, Dunn Ridge, Chain Buttes, Carroll Coulee, Fort Musselshell, and Spear Coulee, among many others. Of those 200,000 acres, the Lewistown Field Office recommended protecting 100,000 acres in its 2016 RMP.
The 2019 RMP recommends protecting zero acres of lands the BLM has identified as having wilderness characteristics.
While eliminating all protection for wilderness, the preferred alternative in the RMP released today also eliminates all “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACECs), a protective BLM designation. There are currently eight ACECs in the Lewistown planning area, located along the Rocky Mountain Front, the Judith Mountains, Square Butte, and Blacktail Creek. These areas are protected for their wildlife, cultural, scenic, geological, paleontological, and other values. Removing the ACEC designation from these areas will open them to oil and gas development and other uses that threaten those values.
In a Congressional hearing yesterday, Sec. Bernhardt said, “I haven’t lost any sleep over [climate change].” The RMP released yesterday, compared to the 2016 version, demonstrates just how true that is.
The 2016 version devotes 12 pages specifically to a discussion of climate change and its impact on air quality resources, noting that “[greenhouse gas] emissions contribute to climate change; these substances drive climate change.” The RMP also set a specific goal for ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, resiliency that depends on the ecosystem remaining undeveloped.
The Interior Department removed all language regarding climate change in this new RMP draft.
The RMP that the BLM released yesterday is top-down, Washington, D.C. planning at its most destructive and offensive. But we have a chance to let the BLM know how we feel about the RMP during the 60-day comment period that begins on Friday. This will also be our opportunity to change the RMP for the better.
Please write a personal comment telling the BLM and DOI why you're disappointed with its transparent decision to favor oil and gas interests, and why it's important that it act to protect Montana's wild heart.
- Mark Good, MWA senior conservation advisor