Leasing Lands that Have Little Potential for Oil and Gas Development Threatens Wildlife, Fish, Public Lands, Waters

DENVER – The National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and Rocky Mountain Wild released a storymap showing how the practice of selling oil and gas leases on land that has little or no potential for development threatens big game species, native trout populations, and sage grouse. Between 2012 and 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leased five million acres that had little potential for oil and gas development but that overlapped valuable fish and wildlife habitat. The report faults BLM policies for failing to consider energy potential when deciding where to lease. 
As the report notes: “These outdated policies enable land speculators to cheaply nominate, obtain, and hold leases even if they make no effort to actually develop them… This puts our public lands at risk because the leases make it difficult for the BLM to manage these areas for their other, more valuable uses such as conservation and recreation.”

“There are treasured landscapes across the West—this report describes several—with important wildlife habitat, fisheries and recreation opportunities where there is little likelihood of oil and gas development. It’s time for the BLM to stop selling oil and gas leases on these low-potential lands,” said Bailey Brennan, public lands attorney at the National Wildlife Federation. “This practice wastes administrative time and money, the leases rarely generate any revenue, and the lands could be better managed for conservation and recreation for the benefit of our public lands and waters, our fish and wildlife, and for American taxpayers.”

“Having grown up on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I’ve always been drawn to water and learned quickly how precious of a commodity it is in the most arid state in the nation. Even today as a pilot, I continue to seek out water first on maps and frequently compare healthy cold-water habitats for fish populations against leased lands with little to no economically recoverable oil and gas resources,” said Tasha Sorensen, Western energy lead at Trout Unlimited. “Our public lands provide over 68 percent of the remaining native trout habitat and the need to protect these areas from the impacts of human development require a renewed urgency. Without it, we will continue to endanger the vital habitats which allow our wild and native trout to persist in some of the driest regions of Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado.” 
Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Fifty-five percent of federal oil and gas leases sold since 2012 are on lands with little or no potential for development
  • Over the last 10 years, leases on lands with little to no development potential have made up 66% of leases sold non-competitively.
  • Currently, 5.1 million acres of important sage-grouse habitat, 1.8 million acres of sensitive big game habitat, and more than 1 million acres of native trout watersheds are tied up in federal oil and gas leases on lands with low or no potential for oil and gas development.


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