By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming officials are objecting to a federal judge’s decision to invalidate oil and gas lease sales on public land in the state.
Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen Mike Enzi, in separate statements, criticized the decision of a U.S. District Court judge in Montana to strike down the leases issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in lease sales held in 2018. The judge said in the May 22 ruling that the BLM failed to adequately protect sage grouse by issuing the leases, which included three in Wyoming and Montana.
Gordon said the decision was particularly troubling given the amount of time and money Wyoming has spent developing its own sage grouse protection program.
“We have spent over $200 (million) on habitat conservation, research and other actions meant to maintain this iconic species,” he said. “At the same time, our ranchers, oil and gas companies, miners and other citizens and industries have helped develop protections that put the species first. This court decision is nothing but a slap in the face to all the efforts that have been undertaken in good faith to protect the species.”
Gordon said Wyoming’s actions already protected sage grouse habitat from drilling on public land, so the judge’s decision had little real impact on the birds but a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.
“The sad thing here is this decision does nothing the bird and it may undermine the voluntary and cooperative work Wyoming citizens have been willing to do to protect this species,” he said. “The decision to simply toss the leases is impractical, impulsive and prevents Wyoming from effectively managing the sage grouse and a vital part of our economy.”
Gordon also said he is studying the possibility of legal action to contest the decision, which he said will cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
Enzi also expressed disappointment that the cooperative efforts of Wyoming and industry officials to protect sage grouse habitat were rejected.
“I am disappointed in the federal judge’s decision to side with environmental activists on this issue,” Enzi said. “I’ve long been a proponent of allowing the Wyoming governor’s office to work with the BLM and our stakeholders to implement management plans that work for all. This decision fails to properly acknowledge all the hard work that has been done to protect the species by those on the ground who know what works best.”