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Conservation Groups Pan BLM Resource Plan for Central MT

Arrow Creek Backcountry Conservation Area is one of two areas to get this new designation in Montana. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
Arrow Creek Backcountry Conservation Area is one of two areas to get this new designation in Montana. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
August 3, 2020

LEWISTOWN, Mont. - Conservation groups are disappointed in the Bureau of Land Management's resource plan for central Montana.

The agency released the final resource-management plan for 650,000 acres overseen by its Lewistown field office.

Aubrey Bertram, eastern Montana field director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said none of the 200,000 acres with wilderness characteristics will be protected. However, 95% of the land will be open to oil and gas leasing.

"It's particularly concerning because, again, these are areas that represent truly remarkable habitat that we don't have anywhere else in the lower 48," said Bertram. "This is the last stand for these places."

Bertram said there isn't much potential for finding oil and gas in the region, raising concerns that the plan will lead to speculative leasing.

The plan does protect 106,000 acres as Backcountry Conservation Areas for the first time ever. Acting BLM director William Perry Pendley said this new designation will protect public hunting and other recreation.

Joe Offer is the executive director of Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument and said Backcountry Conservation Areas sound good in theory, but may not provide much protection in practice.

"There's very little teeth involved with the areas themselves," said Offer. "Oil and gas leasing is actually still allowed. There is a wind exclusion, but the interesting thing on that is it's going to exclude development for wind but still allow development for oil and gas."

Bertram said the vast majority of the 800 comments received about the plan favored conserving this landscape.

"They were in favor of managing these areas for wildlife, for opportunities for recreation, for clean water, for clean air and for reasonable and responsible oil and gas development where the resources exist," said Bertram.

The BLM said the final Lewistown resource management plan will be published on the Federal Register soon.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT