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BLM Resource Plan Opens Central MT to Oil, Gas Development

The Arrow Creek Backcountry Conservation Area, designated under a resource plan for central Montana, will be protected for hunting opportunities. (BLM/Flickr)
The Arrow Creek Backcountry Conservation Area, designated under a resource plan for central Montana, will be protected for hunting opportunities. (BLM/Flickr)
March 20, 2020

HELENA, Mont. - The Bureau of Land Management has released a plan to open up large swaths of central Montana to oil and gas development - critics say at the expense of public lands and wildlife.

The BLM's final Lewistown Resource Management Plan - covering 650,000 acres - potentially cedes up to 95% of central Montana land to the oil and gas industry. It doesn't include any protections for wilderness or wildlife, despite more than 200,000 acres originally identified as having wilderness characteristics.

Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president of public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, says just as troublesome is the Trump administration's seeming to ignore the public's desire to see protections.

"Our concern here is not only about what will happen to the landscape under the Lewistown plan but, of course, it's about the public too," says Stone-Manning. "And how the public is slowly but surely being cut out of our public lands."

The Resource Management Plan has been in the works for six years, with an original draft in 2016 under the Obama administration that protected 100,000 acres with wilderness characteristics.

The plan does include a new kind of designation, known as Backcountry Conservation Areas, designed to protect regions for hunting opportunities.

The two such areas or BCAs in the plan would cover about 100,000 acres in total. But hunters are skeptical.

Andrew McKean, hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine, says BCAs sound great on paper for maintaining big game, but the plan doesn't provide any baseline for measuring how well the areas are working. He says the idea is to secure wildlife and traditional uses - but those uses aren't always compatible.

"One of the things that makes them such rich areas for wildlife is they're rough country without a lot of motorized access," says McKean. "The BCAs don't address that sort-of tension of how we maintain the wildlife values as well as maintaining the traditional access."

Stone-Manning says the new coronavirus outbreak underscores how important public lands are as a place for solace, as well as making sure plans like these protect them.

"I'm taking heart in the value that they provide all of us in times like this, and it's our obligation to make sure that we keep them intact for the future," says Stone-Manning.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT