The Western Governors Association recently urged Congress and the Bush administration to allow more environmental review before companies are allowed to drill in wildlife corridors or sensitive habitat on public lands.
America's hunters and anglers, who for years have been shouting at anyone who would listen about the often-unnecessary harms to fish and wildlife from poorly planned drilling, applaud the action. In it, the sportsmen's community sees proof that state leaders have heard our concerns. We also have received a clear indication that our state leaders share with us an understanding that the value of many Western lands goes far beyond the minerals that lie beneath the surface.
Western hunters and anglers have been calling for balance between energy extraction and fish and wildlife management.
Balance. It has been the core tenet of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Fish, Wildlife and Energy Working Group, a coalition that includes many of the country's leading hunting, fishing and conservation organizations. The group's recommendations, much like the WGA's recent prescription, are rooted in common sense.
They advocate things like increased funding levels for fish and wildlife conservation equal to the funding increases that have been granted to the energy industry. They also champion heightened transparency in the decision-making process for drilling on public lands, increased accountability on the part of the federal agencies and better inter-agency coordination, particularly with the state wildlife agencies.
Above all, the group wants comprehensive conservation strategies for areas proposed for energy development - before leasing occurs, not after. Too many decisions regarding development effects on fish and wildlife are made far too late in the process. In their rush to get drilling permits out the door, our federal land management agencies aren't getting it right.
For proof, we need only to look at Wyoming, where last month the Bureau of Land Management announced it was pulling eight parcels from the auction block immediately after offering them after protests revealed that proper environmental studies had not been performed. A "mistake," the agency called it.
In the wake of such admissions, hunters and anglers are left wondering why the mistakes were so easy to spot that they were seen instantaneously by outside observers. And how many other mistakes went unnoticed in the other 200 leases that were offered in that sale, not to mention the tens of thousands of others offered by the agency in recent years?
It is clear that the federal agencies entrusted to steward our public lands are not giving fish, wildlife and their habitat the attention they need. So as we applaud the WGA for passing what it called "a first step in pursuing changes at the congressional level and insisting on active and effective collaboration between the states and federal land managers," we feel compelled to point out that we need considerably more.
The situation is way too serious for us to only be taking our first steps toward a standard operating procedure that gets the job done for fish and wildlife. Ultimately, the Western governors' recent action must be a beginning, not an end.
* STEVEN BELINDA works for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of hunting, fishing and conservation organizations.