Oil and Gas Leasing Threatening Already-Stressed Water Resources in Montana

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Montana is lucky to have quality fish and wildlife habitat throughout the state. That’s why it’s known as one of the best hunting and angling destinations in the West. Without sufficient water resources, much of this habitat wouldn’t produce quality fish and wildlife populations that we enjoy today.

A new analysis of the Department of Interior’s oil and gas leasing has shown that the current “Energy Dominance” agenda is putting already stressed water resources at risk, both in terms of water quality and quantity. 

The analysis looked at areas throughout the Western oil producing states that currently suffer from a lack of water availability. Along with suffering during prolonged drought years, Montana is projected to have more frequent droughts and increased water demand in the future. The analysis found that nearly 57% of oil and gas leases since 2017 have been offered in areas identified as “extremely high” water-stress. 

Despite some oil and gas wells requiring millions of gallons of water, the widespread leases offered throughout the west have gone mostly unscrutinized, and outdated policies like non-competitive leasing are offering lands for as cheap as $1.50/acre. For species like the greater sage-grouse, that depend on riparian areas or wet meadows in late summer, continued leasing offered in extremely high water-stressed areas is a threat to their survival. Montana’s already-stressed water resources are too precious to risk for oil and gas development. 

More information on the analysis.

Conservation Organizations Come Together to Protect the Grouse

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Sage-Grouse on the Curlew National Grassland. Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Credit: US Forest Service.

Over the last few years, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and his political allies have been working to halt on-the-ground efforts to protect habitat for the greater sage-grouse. To that end, the Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 3052/H.R. 3055/S. 2580) aims to limit conservation actions that protect the sage-grouse.  The House-passed bill includes no provision

Specifically, the language in the Senate-passed 2020 appropriations bill states “None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used by the Secretary of the Interior to write or issue pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973”. This simple “rider” tucked on page 65 of the bill prohibits the Interior Department from moving forward on listing determination for the species under the Endangered Species Act – thereby kicking the legs out from any efforts to prevent the species from actually becoming endangered.

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Sage-Grouse on the Curlew National Grassland. Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Credit: US Forest Service.

In response to this unnecessary and malicious rider, the Montana Wildlife Federation joined our partner organizations in Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington to call on Congress to drop the political games and focus on full implementation of the 2015 sage-grouse conservation plans instead of working to stop further protections for the bird. The 2015 plans were successfully made with cooperation among stakeholders from opposite ends of the table and should be brought back in full force. 

The population of the greater sage-grouse is declining and its habitat – which also supports hundreds of other species – is in rough shape as well. With detrimental impacts from oil and gas development, fire, and climate change we need to do everything we can to help protect the bird and its habitat. MWF and our partners across the West will keep speaking up to do just that.

Take a look at the submitted letter and see what organizations signed on!

Wildlife Federation’s Sage Grouse FY 2020 Approps Letter

Schoonen, A Champion for the “Everyman” Hunter, Angler

Photo courtesy of Roy Morris.

By Kathy Hadley

Tony Schoonen will be remembered for a lot of things – his blunt speaking style, his neverending advocacy and his love of the outdoors. But Schoonen would want to be remembered for one thing the most – that he never stopped fighting for the rights of everyone in Montana to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Tony’s lifetime of advocacy led to an impressive list of wins for wildlife conservation, public access, and public hunting and fishing opportunities. The Tony Schoonen I knew was never afraid to get out there and speak his mind for what was right. He loved the outdoors, and he understood that it took people to stand up and fight for these public resources. He was often the tip of the spear in those efforts and led the way, building a large constituency of citizen activists that would become a powerful movement on key issues.

That led to the strongest, pro-public stream access law in the country, and access to our state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation lands. And it also led to the Public Land and Water Access Association, the group willing to do the tough work when people were purposely blocking off the ability to get to public land.

But Tony wasn’t just concerned with access. He also had a strong conservation ethic. He knew that while getting to public land was important, it was also vital that we protect key areas so that big game and other wildlife could thrive there. He fought to ensure that the Forest Service didn’t build too many roads or clearcut lands in important big game habitat. And he worked to support the Habitat Montana program to protect important big game winter range, as well as open it to public access.

His contributions to access and wildlife conservation will be felt by generations still to come. The Tony I knew would be happy just knowing that a youngster gets out and enjoys those public resources.


Kathy Hadley is a board member and past president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.


Tester and Daines Offer Amendment to Fully Fund LWCF in FY20

Copy of LWCFLast week, Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester joined other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to offer an amendment that would secure full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in FY2020.

Since 1964, LWCF has provided Montana with over $600 million in funding to improve access to public lands and waters, as well as conserving public parks, trails, wildlife refuges, and more. MWF applauds our Senators on their efforts to provide full and dedicated funding for LWCF to protect public lands for future generations. Click here to see the amendment on the Interior Appropriations bill.

Take action and tell Congressman Greg Gianforte to join his fellow delegates and work to provide the full and dedicated funding that LWCF needs.

MWF Supports Keeping Crucial Crazy Mountains Habitat in Public Hands

MWF Board Member Annie McLaughlin and friends hike the Crazies - Zach Porter
MWF member Annie McLaughlin and friends hike the Crazies.

The Montana Wildlife Federation supports keeping two sections of quality wildlife habitat in the south Crazy Mountains that sit along Rock Creek in public ownership. These lands have public access to them and offer incredible sporting opportunities. These lands are too special as wildlife habitat to give up. Read our letter to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest over the proposed South Crazies land exchange here, and tell the Forest Service to keep sections 4 and 8 along Rock Creek.


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