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Moab Master Leasing Plan can be an example of collaborative conservation

The area covered in the BLM's Master Leasing Plan for the Moab area is home to big horn sheep, mule deer and pronghorns. Image: Steve TorbitThe area covered in the BLM's Master Leasing Plan for the Moab area is home to big horn sheep, mule deer and pronghorns. Image: Steve Torbit

This week, the Bureau of Land Management’s Moab field office closed the 90-day comment period for a Master Leasing Plan, the first of its kind in Utah. The comment period provided interested individuals, organizations, municipalities and agencies an opportunity to comment on four separate alternatives for managing oil, gas and potash development across 785,000 acres of public lands, including some of the most iconic scenery in Utah and important big game habitat.

Master Leasing Plans are a relatively new concept that is being applied for the first time in Utah to guide development on BLM lands.

In short, MLPs provide upfront planning so that energy development occurs in ways that are balanced with other resource values, such as wildlife habitat and recreation. It’s a “look before you leap” approach to managing public lands that helps to identify – and resolve – areas of conflict early in the process so that when leasing and development do occur, the BLM and stakeholders have already grappled with the tough issues. In this way, MLPs provide both the industry and conservation interests with certainty that: 1) companies will be able to develop leases they purchase, and 2) oil and gas development will be balanced with other multiple uses, like providing quality hunting and fishing opportunities. 

Restoring balance

Although this is the first MLP in Utah, the state has seen its fair share of controversy over oil and gas leasing. In fact, it was a controversial proposal to offer leases near Arches National Park in 2008 that helped to give rise to the MLP concept as a way to reduce conflict and litigation associated with oil and gas leasing. It is fitting that seven years later the BLM is moving forward with an MLP in Utah, a state rich with both energy and fish and wildlife resources.

The Sportsmen for Responsible Energy coalition is adding its support to the outdoor recreation, wildlife, conservation, hunting and angling organizations calling on the BLM to adopt a strong MLP and common-sense safeguards for the countryside that contains the only remaining native herds of desert bighorn sheep in Utah. The area also encompasses pronghorn-fawning habitat and habitat for mule deer.

The continued viability of wildlife in this part of the Colorado Plateau is at stake as federal land managers wrestle with striking the right balance between drilling, mining and maintaining habitat and places to fish, hunt and recreate. The area’s mule deer and pronghorn numbers are declining and are significantly below wildlife managers’ population goals. In this arid country, where water is already at a premium, great care must be taken to prevent contamination of waterways and impacts on fisheries.

The Moab MLP can be another important step toward fulfilling the promise of the Interior Department’s 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms and the desire of Westerners to make sure that some of our country’s last, best places endure for generations to come.

About the Author
Corey Fisher

Corey Fisher lives in Missoula, Mont., with his wife, Cheryl, and a dog named Blue. He is the energy team lead for Trout Unlimited. When not in the mountains hunting elk or casting flies to trout, he works to ensure that energy development is balanced with needs of fish, wildlife and hunters and anglers in the West.

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