From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 22 - August 26, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

BLM: No single use, no support for buy-outs

by Cat Urbigkit

Bureau of Land Management National Director Kathleen Clarke joined Wyoming BLM Director Bill Bennett and Pinedale Field Manager Prill Mecham for a press conference in the agency's Pinedale office last Thursday morning.

Concerns that areas like the Jonah Field will actually become single-use areas with prohibitions on public use unrelated to industrial development are recognized by the BLM, but Clarke doesn't believe there is much chance of that happening.

"I don't see us going to single-use areas," Clarke said. "We are a multiple-use agency - that is our mandate. We are very committed to managing activities on public lands so that they are in harmony with one another and ultimately they all respect our environmental stewardship requirements."

Mecham added that while the BLM hasn't chosen its preferred alternative for Jonah, she doesn't see single-use on the horizon.

"Kathleen's balance is what we're seeking out here," Mecham said.

Clarke talked in general about the Pinedale Field Office area, stating, "This area is so remarkable. It has world-class scenery, world-class wildlife and it has world-class oil and gas resources. You've got so many incredible things going on here."

Clarke said visitors are enchanted by the area's beauty. "We want to maintain that," Clarke said, while utilizing resources that benefit our nation.

Clarke continued to cite the agency's multiple-use mandate. She said, "We're trying to do that very responsibly and so that we don't abandon one set of values in order to fulfill another one."

"The BLM has a responsibility to manage all of our public lands for quality of life in this nation and for the multiple values that exist there," Clarke said. "The public's resources belong to this nation. They add to the economic strength of this nation. They add to our national security. They happen to have many benefits. But the need for oil and gas does not trump other uses of the land, nor do those other resource values trump energy.

"We, again, have a very complex mandate to find a way to benefit from the oil and gas resources in this area but we don't intend to do so at the expense of the other values that are so critically important to people who live here but also people from around the world who come to experience and enjoy this," Clarke said.

Last week Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson gave a speech describing how BLM managers have authority to withhold or defer leasing parcels of BLM mineral holdings due to concerns for sensitive resources while land use plans are being completed. The speech was followed by a directive sent to BLM managers. When asked if this was a new policy or if the policy had already been in place and in use, Clarke said, "We have been doing so.

"Some field offices have asked for some clarity on it and we had some external groups who didn't understand that it already existed," Clarke explained. "By putting out this direction I think we are seeking to clarify it, both internally and externally."

Mecham confirmed that the recent directive really doesn't have an impact locally because the authority is already in use in this field office area. She pointed out that the BLM has deferred leasing areas that are sensitive wildlife areas of migration corridors, including Trapper's Point and the Wind River Front. The leasing decisions are deferred until the new BLM resource management plan has been completed.

Questar's request to conduct year-round drilling on mule deer winter range on the Mesa near Pinedale is still under consideration, but if approved, will be in compliance with the Adaptive Environmental Management process authorized in the decision approving mineral development along the Pinedale Anticline, according to Mecham. She pointed out that the AEM process is designed around the premise that actions taken would be adaptive to changes.

Clarke said the Questar proposal, if approved, isn't really precedent setting.

"Right now, I don't think we see it as setting a precedent," Clarke said. "I think we see it as a chance to better understand winter activities and how wildlife relate to that."

When asked about the increasing trend in the buy-out of public lands grazing allotments and the resulting permanent closure of those allotments to livestock, Clarke said: "The BLM has not supported a buy-out program. We have had some groups who have asked us to embrace that."

Clarke said the Taylor Grazing Act clearly defines the role of livestock grazing on public lands.

"We believe that grazing is an appropriate use of public lands," Clarke said. "We feel that grazing should be a part of BLM's future. It's an important use of the land here in Wyoming."

"Again, it's part of our multiple-use mission," Clarke said. "It's part of the culture and the lifestyle and the livelihood of people in the West and we support public lands grazing."

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