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Progress Seen in BLM Public Land-Leasing Policies

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July 30, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The protests are declining. According to "Making The Grade (Almost)", published by The Wilderness Society, the on-shore oil and gas lease practices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) across the West have started to include protection of wildlife habitat as well as wildlands, cultural resources and recreation opportunities. The study looks at the modifications the BLM has put in place.

These changes are meeting with approval in New Mexico. Nada Culver, director and senior counsel of the BLM Action Center at The Wilderness Society, says New Mexico is doing well.

"We mainly have seen New Mexico doing a good job with the reforms. We have had some concerns about how and if the BLM is looking at protecting lands with wilderness characteristics."

Culver says that's an area where BLM needs improvement, overall.

On the subject of Otero Mesa, Culver says the effort to approve oil and gas drilling on BLM land in Otero and Sierra counties went to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the BLM did not do appropriate analysis of the impact on groundwater and other resources, such as desert grasslands.

"We are waiting for a new plan for that area that we hope will take a better look at how to better balance drilling with conservation."

Overall, Culver believes things are much improved, following the implementation of the reforms. She says there are far fewer protests against oil and gas leasing proposals. But it's something The Wilderness Society will have to keep an eye on, she adds.

"We may well look at it in another year to see if they continued on this trajectory. Because right now they are trending toward making significant improvements in the oil and gas leasing process."

She says her organization hopes to see that course continue, but it will take a commitment from the BLM.

The full report can be found at http://wilderness.org.

Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM