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Report: 'Unchecked' Energy Development Threatens MT Hunters' Future

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Big game hunting generates $4 million annually for central Montana. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)
Big game hunting generates $4 million annually for central Montana. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)
April 24, 2020

LEWISTOWN, Mont. - Hunters are voicing concerns about the impact of unchecked energy development in the West.

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation looks at three Resource Management Plans (RMPs), including a plan for nearly 630,000 acres near Lewistown and the Missouri River in central Montana.

In this plan, the Bureau of Land Management would open 91% of its acreage in the region to potential oil and gas development.

Alec Underwood, federal conservation campaigns director at the Montana Wildlife Federation, says whether these lands are used for drilling, or simply leased and managed for that purpose, hunters will lose out.

"It really ignores the existing values on the landscape," says Underwood, "such as hunting and fishing and outdoor recreation, and all of those are essential to Montanans' quality of life."

The region is renowned for its big game hunting, including elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, which helps generate four million dollars a year for the local economy, according to the report.

The BLM has finalized the plan but hasn't adopted it yet. Underwood says it contains few protections for areas considered ecologically important.

Marcia Brownlee is the program manager of the National Wildlife Federation's Artemis program, a sportswomen's conservation initiative. She says she understands the importance of oil and gas -- it keeps the lights on and provides gas so she can drive to favorite hunting spots.

But Brownlee believes an energy dominance agenda as expansive as the Lewistown RMP places resource extraction above all else on public lands.

"It says unequivocally that this is the most valuable thing our public lands provide for us," says Brownlee. "When in reality, hunting on these lands supports our economy, through hunting and fishing-related jobs, through travel to small towns across the West."

Brownlee says hunting also supports state agencies through license sales and excise taxes, and the meat harvested from hunts is prized by many families. She adds that the BLM could have chosen to balance habitat health and resource extraction.

"It doesn't need to be an either/or," says Brownlee. "We can have Resource Management Plans that include oil and gas development while honoring conservation priorities. We can have Resource Management Plans that honor the complexity of our economy, and the complexity of the needs of our communities."

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