Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: John Wright
For Immediate Release: Aug. 16, 2004

Assistant Secretary Watson Underscores Federal Commitment to Conservation,
and the Protection of Wildlife, during Energy Leasing and Development



WASHINGTON-In remarks Saturday, Aug. 14, before the American Wildlife Conservation Partners annual meeting in New York, Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, highlighted the Bush administration's strong commitment to the health and conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat in the land-use planning process for energy development.

"You and your members are the experts on wildlife. When you speak, we listen," Watson said. "I am pleased to announce several initiatives we are taking to address the issues you have raised about the oil and gas leasing process."

Watson told the AWCP that the federal government has taken several steps to help ensure that conservation of wildlife, wildlife habitat and recreation are part of the land-use planning process on public lands. Watson noted that she directed the Bureau of Land Management to provide policy guidance to remind all BLM state directors and regional offices that they have the discretion, during the preparation of a new resource- management plan, to temporarily defer leasing to protect alternatives under consideration in the new plan.

"The use of this discretion will preserve flexibility in the new land-use plan and avoid leasing in lands that may later be closed or restricted to protect wildlife in the new plan," Watson said. BLM issued this policy directive, WO IM 2004-110 titled Fluid Mineral Leasing and Related Planning and National Environmental Policy Act Processes, on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004.

Bob Model, president of the Boone and Crockett Club and chairman of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, said: "The Bush administration listened to the resource and wildlife community's concerns, the hunter and sportsmen's community, and the administration is responding by making important moves toward addressing and mitigating the concerns of our community."

"We need your expert input when these planning decisions are being addressed," Watson said. "This is an important partnership that will help promote the principle of shared community stewardship of our public lands."

Under the policy guidance, all BLM state offices are to consider temporarily deferring oil, gas and geothermal leasing on federal lands with land-use plans that are currently being revised or amended. A decision to temporarily defer could include lands that are designated in the preferred alternative of draft or final Resource Management Plan revisions or amendments as: 1) lands closed to leasing; 2) lands open to leasing under no surface occupancy; 3) lands open to leasing under seasonal or other constraints with an emphasis on wildlife concerns; or 4) other potentially restricted lands.

Watson announced that Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed documents to renew the charter of the Pinedale Anticline working group and task groups on Friday,
August 13, 2004. This advisory group will make recommendations to BLM's management of oil and gas and other resources in the Pinedale Anticline, an area in west central Wyoming, for at least the next decade. The group consists of members from the BLM, the oil and gas industry, environmental community, local governments, and the public at large.

Jim Gladen, vice president of Lands and Conservation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said: "We appreciate the administration's efforts to work with conservation organizations to ensure that wildlife concerns are being addressed for energy development on public lands."

As part of the steps being taken, Watson pointed out that USDA Forest Service (USFS) and the BLM will hire a state game and fish biologist in Wyoming to work with the federal agencies on energy plans and decisions. The BLM and USFS will also jointly develop a pilot wildlife monitoring program in the larger Pinedale area, including the Bridger-Teton National Forest, to address wildlife and habitat conditions during energy development. This would be a wildlife monitoring subcommittee to the newly created Federal Administrative Committee Act-compliant Pinedale Anticline working group. Sportsmen and other interested parties will be invited to participate. The participants will receive training in BLM and USFS monitoring methods and will assist BLM agency officials in gathering data.

"The bottom line is this: this administration, unlike the previous administration, has responded to the concerns of the hunter, sportsman and conservation community in the past three and a half years," Bob Model said. "Here in Wyoming, positive steps are being made toward the development of energy, but it's being done the right way because this Administration is sensitive to the needs and concerns of conservationists."

Model went on to say: "This is evident by the announcement that RMP's will be completed; a pilot project will be pursued; and the fact that a wildlife specialist will be assigned to Wyoming just for this issue." Model added that the administration is doing everything possible to protect wildlife habitat. "This is not an issue of whether or not to develop oil and gas-we all support that effort wholeheartedly. This is an issue in making sure it's done in the correct way. This administration is making sure that happens," Model said.

WO IM 2004-110: "Fluid Mineral Leasing and Related Planning and National Environmental Policy Act Processes" can be found at



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