Hunters Hopefull to Protect Missouri Breaks Land

 

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MISSOULA — The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Missoula is mapping favorite hunting spots in Montana in hopes of avoiding conflicts between hunters and oil and gas developers.

 

The map is based on surveys of hunting and outdoors advocacy groups throughout the state and is intended to help land managers understand where high-value hunting areas are.

 

One such area is the Missouri Breaks.

 

“That’s the golden area of the state,” said Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership policy expert Bill Geer. “If we can’t do something there, I don’t know what I’m in this business for.”

 

A network of 40 hunting clubs has requested removal of 225,000 acres of public land from consideration for oil and gas leasing through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Their petition has won support from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and received official review by BLM offices in eastern Montana.

 

Large areas of the Missouri Breaks have potential for oil and gas exploration. And since recreational interests first objected to oil and gas leasing there in 2007, no prospector has bid on that acreage in nine subsequent BLM sales.

“The BLM dismissed our protest, but still no one leased those acres,” Geer said. “We know it’s got low potential for oil and gas discovery. I figured I’ve got to be able to capitalize on that.”

 

Much of the area adjacent to the Missouri River already has protection from the C.M. Russell and UL Bend national wildlife refuges. Beyond those boundaries are thousands of public acres that hold winter range for elk, deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn. They also hold the oil and gas leases.

 

President Bill Clinton’s end-of-term declaration of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument angered many ranchers and residents in the area.

 

So rather than fight for new wildlife refuges, the hunting groups chose a simpler strategy: Just ask that those BLM lands be declared unsuitable for energy leasing.

 

“It is my understanding that the identified area does not hold significant oil and gas potential, yet the continuing prospect of leasing and potential exploration causes concern for Montana’s sportsmen and women,” Tester wrote to BLM Montana state director Gene Terland in April. “It seems there is an opportunity for the BLM, energy companies and sportsmen to work together to protect high-quality public hunting and fishing lands in central Montana, while not inhibiting responsible oil and gas development in more promising areas.

 

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“I would respectfully request that you continue to work with the local, state and national sportsmen groups and carefully consider their requests.”

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That consideration is under way, although it will take a while. Eastern Montana BLM regional offices are in the process of updating their resource management plans, which set the rules and priorities for all lands under their supervision.

In Miles City, BLM spokesman Mark Jacobsen said the request has become part of the ongoing update to his office’s resource management plan as a draft alternative.

“We’ve taken the priority areas and made them the focus of our analysis,” Jacobsen said. “We realize this area is high use for sportsman groups.”

Field managers will weigh the request along with those of ranchers, prospectors, dinosaur hunters and others with interests in BLM lands. A preferred alternative should be selected by next spring. After a 90-day comment period, the draft plan will return to the BLM for final tinkering, with release expected in 2011.

“I would respectfully request that you continue to work with the local, state and national sportsmen groups and carefully consider their requests.”

 

That consideration is under way, although it will take a while. Eastern Montana BLM regional offices are in the process of updating their resource management plans, which set the rules and priorities for all lands under their supervision.

 

In Miles City, BLM spokesman Mark Jacobsen said the request has become part of the ongoing update to his office’s resource management plan as a draft alternative.

 

“We’ve taken the priority areas and made them the focus of our analysis,” Jacobsen said. “We realize this area is high use for sportsman groups.”

 

Field managers will weigh the request along with those of ranchers, prospectors, dinosaur hunters and others with interests in BLM lands. A preferred alternative should be selected by next spring. After a 90-day comment period, the draft plan will return to the BLM for final tinkering, with release expected in 2011.

 

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  1. I was lucky enough to see the one TRCP’s presentations on this project. Rod and Gun Clubs from around the state help to outline the hunting and fishing sites that they thought were the most important. I think the work has great potential for protecting remaing lands that are in need of protection.

    You wouldn’t think folks would want to reveal their favorite hunting and fishing spots, but I think they now realize the positive impacts this work will have.