This opinion piece was written and submitted by Joshua W.D. Coursey, Muley Fanatic Foundation President/CEO.
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This summer, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held its first federal oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming since 2020, making almost 120,000 acres of federal lands available for leasing. These public lands were intentionally chosen to make the best use of areas close to existing development, while avoiding places with outstanding cultural resources and habitat values–such as land inside the Greater Little Mountain area which BLM deferred before the sale took place.
The deferral was a huge win for hunters and anglers like myself, who cherish this landscape and the ability to hunt and fish in our own backyards. Greater Little Mountain supports a wide variety of fish and wildlife habitats, from desert floors to high conifer sub-Alpine peaks. And it is beloved by many sportsmen, sportswomen, and recreationists, not just in Wyoming, but from across the country and around the world. Energy development has always been a cornerstone of Wyoming’s economy, but the Greater Little Mountain Area is one place where everyone can agree that it simply does not belong.
DOI’s decision not to lease land inside the Greater Little Mountain area shows that the agency has listened to and honored input from Wyoming’s governors, the Sweetwater County Commission, conservation groups, and local stakeholders who have spent years working to protect Little Mountain and its wildlife and recreation opportunities.
This decision also made clear that the agency is acting responsibly when deciding what lands are going to be offered in oil and gas lease sales. By maximizing parcels offered for leasing in areas near those that are already developed for oil and gas, DOI was better able to avoid wasting limited time and resources on lands with little likelihood of development.
Adjustments to these lease sales incorporated many of the reforms that we have been seeking in order to place equal value on the wildlife, water, and habitat of our public land. That includes taking the initial steps needed to modernize the century-old royalty rate that oil and gas companies pay taxpayers for the use of the resources they extract from public lands. Increasing the federal onshore royalty rate for leases sold during this sale to 18.75 percent to better align with the rate imposed for drilling on many states’ lands will ensure taxpayers receive a fair return for the use of our publicly-owned resources. This positive change clearly did not deter the oil and gas industry’s interest or ability to purchase most of the leases made available at the sale this June.
President Biden and Secretary Haaland must continue to put Wyoming’s public lands and wildlife first by moving forward with lasting, common-sense reforms to the federal oil and gas leasing system. Wyomingites need to see definitive policy changes from DOI. That includes rules that take critical steps to avoid leasing in important wildlife habitat and migration corridors and in areas of low potential for oil development; requiring oil and gas companies to clean up after themselves by increasing federal bonding rates; and increasing the minimum bid and royalty and rental rates for oil and gas leases permanently so that taxpayers are getting paid what they are rightfully owed for development on our public lands. That’s what responsible energy development looks like.