In Montana, we are fortunate to have access to some of the country’s most iconic public lands. As a longtime hunter and fisherman, I rely on these rivers, streams and forests to pursue my passions. Public lands support the Montane way of life and we deserve policies that protect them and manage their use responsibly.
Unfortunately, the current federal oil and gas leasing system is flawed and fails to protect these valuable areas while harming taxpayers with unnecessary policies. The Biden administration’s recent decision to suspend new oil and gas leasing recognizes the value wildlife and outdoor recreation bring to Montana and provides a significant opportunity to make critical changes to this system.
A major problem this system has perpetuated, especially in Montana, is uncompetitive leasing: a loophole that allows oil and gas companies to lease public land at discounted prices. In the past four years alone, less than half of all the acres offered in Montana have been sold at an auction; acres that were not sold then became available to oil and gas companies for a paltry $ 1.50 an acre. This nefarious practice not only wastes limited government resources, but it also prioritizes public lands for oil and gas over conservation or recreation.
The Lewistown Resource Management Plan – a proposal that covered 650,000 acres of public land in central Montana – is a prime example of the urgent need for leasing reform. The plan, which was illegally approved by former BLM director William Perry Pendley, opens 95% of the area, one of North America’s most productive big game habitats, to oil leasing and gas, even if its oil potential is low.
Fortunately, this plan was rejected by a federal judge. But the underlying policies that made it so dangerous persist. Non-competitive leasing has reached record levels in recent years, although 99% of non-competitive leases never go into development. Montana’s wildlife, land, and thriving outdoor recreation economy suffer when our government cannot devote the time and resources to improving habitat and maintaining trails, sites and sites. access to fishing and other public land infrastructure.
Fortunately, Senator Jon Tester has introduced legislation to help reform this broken system, bring transparency back to the management of public lands, and end the waste of uncompetitive tenancy. I strongly encourage the Biden administration and Congress to support this desperately needed legislation and to protect access to U.S. public lands for their multiple uses.
The Montanans are ready for this change. According to Colorado College’s recent Conservation in the West poll, seventy percent of Montanians believe oil and gas development on national public lands should be stopped or strictly limited, rather than expanded. We know the best way forward is to reform federal leasing and create a better system that protects our precious hunting and fishing grounds. Montana has very little oil to start with – there are currently no active drills in the state – so it makes sense to better manage these landscapes so that they work for everyone.
The Biden administration has taken critical first steps to preserve our precious wildlife reserves by ending all new leasing of oil and gas on public lands and waters. I encourage the President to continue to listen to the Montanans and to build on this effort by reviewing and reforming the federal leasing system. Only then can we ensure that our public lands and cherished wild animals are safeguarded and that our ancestral traditions are passed on for generations to come.
Kathy Hadley is co-founder of Artemis Sportswomen and a member of the board of directors of the Montana Wildlife Federation. She lives at Deer Lodge.