Fighting for the Endangered Ferret
In 2006 and 2008, WRA won precedent-setting legal victories for the black-footed ferret, recognized by biologists as the most endangered mammal in North America. The cases successfully challenged oil and gas leasing in Utah and Colorado, respectively.
However, in March 2010 BLM re-issued its decision approving the Colorado leases, without allowing stakeholder participation and in apparent disregard of the remand order issued by the Interior Board of Land Appeals. On behalf of the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems, WRA responded with a follow-up IBLA challenge to BLM's new decision, including a motion to compel production of the administrative record.
The oil and gas boom continues to explode across northwest Colorado, and in 2009 Colorado surpassed Wyoming as the western state to issue the most new drilling permits. With 30 million acres of industry leases on public lands sitting untouched, there is no need to grant even more drilling rights within the boundaries of the recovery area for the ferret.
The survival of this legendary endangered species is in the balance. Gambling that new leases won't doom the ferret is as irresponsible as hoping BP wouldn't spill millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.
Another Victory for the Canada Lynx
WRA's victory protects 2,079 acres of roadless lands from oil and gas development, including some of the best lynx habitat on the White River National Forest.
Western Resource Advocates has won its challenge to three federal oil and gas leases proposed for roadless lands on the White River National Forest (WRNF) in western Colorado. The Board of Land Appeals of the Department of the Interior ruled that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management violated Endangered Species Act requirements to protect the endangered Canada lynx and failed to adequately consider the impacts of oil and gas exploration on Forest lands.
"WRA will continue to enforce federal laws safeguarding Canada lynx and special areas of the National Forests," said WRA Lands Program Director Mike Chiropolos.
This is WRA's second successful effort to protect endangered lynx in Colorado. In 2006, WRA defended a Forest Service decision to limit snowmobile use in prime lynx habitat in the San Juan National Forest. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Forest Service's restrictions.
The White River decision will protect significant natural resources in addition to the lynx. It applies to both the Thompson Creek and Reno Mountain Inventoried Roadless Areas. Thompson Creek contains the largest concentration of old growth spruce/fir forest on the WRNF, and is a primary Colorado River Cutthroat Trout watershed. Reno Mountain provides valuable black bear habitat and is a vital corridor for seasonal wildlife migrations.
WRA represented eight parties in the oil and gas leasing appeal and collaborated with Pitkin County on the County's parallel challenge of the leases. We were proud to represent a broad coalition of conservation groups, wildlife advocates and local governments.
January 2008. Photo Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service
Endangered Species Victory:
A Win for the Black-Footed Ferret
Western Resource Advocates and the Center for Native Ecosystems recently achieved a victory that will protect habitat for the black-footed ferret. The endangered black-footed ferret “is the rarest mammal in North America, and one of the rarest in the world,” according to the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. The ferret once inhabited prairie dog colonies across the West, but in 1979 the species was declared extinct. According to a federal recovery plan, ferret habitat is “less than 2 percent of what once existed.”
Remnant populations were found, and in 1991 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing ferrets bred in captivity to a handful of sites in the wild, including Coyote Basin in northeast Utah. However, in 2003, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered oil and gas leases covering more than 29,000 acres in Coyote Basin. BLM approved the leases over the objections of the Wildlife Service and the Center for Native Ecosystems.
Western Resource Advocates appealed the leasing decision on behalf of Center for Native Ecosystems. In a precedent-setting victory, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) held that BLM’s decision violated federal law by failing to consider potential impacts on the ferret recovery program. IBLA relied on federal biologists’ belief that “the existence of suitable habitat to continue this reintroduction project is of critical national importance if the species is to be preserved.”
Western Resource Advocates and Center for Native Ecosystems will now advocate for adequate protections to improve the ferret’s prospects for survival. Interestingly, just after the Utah victory was secured, BLM approved a similar leasing program for several thousand acres of lands in Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ferret Management Area, considered the best potential ferret habitat in Colorado. Armed with its legal victory in Utah, WRA will challenge drilling on lands that could jeopardize recovery efforts in Colorado.