Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary Contact: John Wright
For Immediate Release: Feb. 24, 2005 202-208-6416

Assistant Secretary Watson Says Federal Energy Program Reflects Strict Environmental Protection

Efforts Underscore Federal Commitment to Protect Wildlife and Habitat


WASHINGTON-In a letter to Trout Unlimited today, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Rebecca Watson highlighted the Bush administration's strong commitment and strict adherence to environmental regulations designed to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat. Watson addressed concerns TU expressed in a Feb. 15, 2005, letter to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton about oil and gas development on public lands.

"The Department of the Interior's energy program reflects the administration's belief that environmentally sound energy development is important to our national security and economic well-being," Watson wrote. "It also directly supports the Bureau of Land Management's mandate to manage resources to best meet the present and future needs of the American people."

Watson noted that the federal government has taken several measures to help ensure that conservation of wildlife, wildlife habitat and recreation are part of the land-use planning process on public lands.

"Our strong commitment to multiple use management is reflected in the Bureau of Land Management's land-use plans," Watson said. "These plans are developed in an open public process and are the blueprint for how all activities and resources are managed on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management."

Watson said President Bush made his mandate very clear in the National Energy Policy where he said 'We must work to build a new harmony between energy needs and our environmental concerns. The truth is energy production and environmental protections are not competing priorities. They are dual aspects of a single purpose, to live well and wisely upon the earth.'

With that message in mind, on June 22, 2004, Watson announced a new Bureau of Land Management policy initiative designed to enhance protection for wildlife by reducing long-term impacts from oil and gas activity through the use of Best Management Practices. She also directed the BLM to issue a policy (August 13, 2004) confirming that land managers have discretion to temporarily defer leasing when it might conflict with wildlife protection proposals in resource management plans under development.

"We routinely set aside special areas that hold unique values," Watson said. "We have withdrawn leases from energy development to protect wildlife. "Out of 261 million acres managed by BLM, fewer than 325,000 acres are directly affected by oil and gas production activities. That is about one-tenth of 1 percent."

For example, in October 2004, the BLM deferred work on an oil and gas proposal in the Blackleaf area along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana until at least 2008, in order to allow time for a landscape-scale study of the area. In Utah, since January 2004, the BLM has deferred action on 568 parcels out of 1,146 nominated for oil and gas leases, nearly half, to allow for additional analysis of wildlife, cultural or other resource values.

Watson indicated that the critical leasing decisions are made during the planning stage. It is in that process where other uses such as hunting, fishing, camping and livestock grazing are thoroughly analyzed and competing priorities are balanced.

"The environmental review that is part of the land-use planning process analyzes potential impacts of all activities using the best and most recent information available," Watson said. "It is a complicated process, but it is fully open to the public and people need to be involved. The BLM should have the benefit of diverse and thoughtful views as it develops its resource management plans."

Letter from Assistant Secretary Watson

Rebecca W. Watson is the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior. She provides policy, priorities and oversight to the Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service, and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. These three bureaus have responsibility for the production of about 35 percent of the nation's domestic oil, natural gas and coal that heat and cool our homes, fuel our cars and trucks, and power our high-tech economy. The Bureau of Land Management also manages about one-eighth of the land in the United States for a wide variety of uses benefiting the public including recreation, grazing, timber production, mining, wilderness, energy development and wildlife habitat.






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