Wildlife face precedent changing winter drilling threat

Utah’s Bureau of Land Management biologists have always known that energy exploration and the winter range of Rocky Mountain Elk and Mule Deer don’t mix. Harsh Utah winters place extra stress on animals. Disruptions caused by the noise of heavy drilling equipment on traditional winter range increases animal stress and decrease the chance of survival. That’s why for 16 years it has been BLM policy in the Price Field Office to stop all major construction projects between November 1st and May 15th if those projects fall within critical or high value winter range.

Unfortunately, this policy is changing in a dramatic way. Last month, the Price office authorized Farmington, Utah based Wasatch Oil and Gas to proceed with wintertime drilling operations on important elk and deer winter range within a cherry stem of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area, located approximately 50 miles south and east of Price. The approval for wintertime drilling was given to Wasatch Oil and Gas despite an environmental assessment, completed this summer, that reiterated the long-standing policy that no drilling should take place during the months of November and May. What’s worse is that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources just released 15 head of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep on the proposed drilling site. Radio monitoring of the herd indicates that several of the animals remain on the drill site.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance asked the BLM State office to reverse the Price office decision. It refused. SUWA then went to federal court on December 1, 2000 to ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO), to halt drilling until a full hearing could take place. The judge refused SUWA’s request for a TRO, but set a hearing for December 8.

The BLM needs to hear from you. The Price office manages an area that includes some of the largest deer and elk herds in the state of Utah. The area also faces the some of the most intense oil and gas exploration pressures in Utah. This decision has precedent setting ramifications for wintertime drilling throughout the Price River MFP and possibly all BLM lands within Utah.

Contact Dick Manus, Price Field Office, and tell him he made a bad decision to allow wintertime drilling on critical habitat in the Desolation Canyon WSA area. Call him at 435-636-3600, or send a letter to Dick Manus, Price Field Office, PO Box 7004, Price, Utah 84501. Also call or write Doug Koza, Deputy State Director of the BLM, and ask him to reconsider his decision to uphold the Price office ruling. Call him at 801-539-4034, or send a letter to him at the State Office of the BLM, PO Box 45155, Salt Lake City, Utah 84145-0155.


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