12/27/2011 11:01 am ET | Updated Feb 26, 2012

Wyoming Sportsmen Thank Secretary Salazar

Secretary Ken Salazar's recent visit to Cheyenne offered a unique opportunity for Wyoming sportsmen and women to thank the Secretary for his effort to improve the oil and natural gas leasing process on our public lands. Members of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation presented letters and photos of thanks to the Secretary from hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts ranging in ages from 16 to 65 for policy changes that they see are benefiting sportsmen across the west.

There have been many debates over energy development; and the inefficient system that has traditionally framed these debates -- a system where "us" versus "them" -- became a defining feature. I believe that most Wyomingites support energy development, but we also want to protect our outdoor economy, which has always been there for us through boom and bust. We value our ability to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors, and celebrate our sporting culture and heritage.

Secretary Salazar's common sense approach to energy development on public lands has brought more clarity and consistency to complicated and controversial on-shore oil and gas leasing. These new policies require BLM to conduct more detailed environmental review prior to oil and gas leasing. This has led to more certainty for both sportsmen and energy companies because the public's concerns can be addressed on the front end of leasing instead of waiting until the final stage. The BLM and energy companies know months in advance of an oil and gas lease sale, which encompasses acres of land and water are important to wildlife, recreation and the public. Since the implementation of the new reforms, the Interior Department has reported an overall, dramatic drop in the number of lease protests. I encourage Wyoming's elected officials to support the Department of the Interior as it works to adopt proactive policies that reduce conflict.

The 2010 oil and gas lease reforms have also encouraged the public to become engaged in the development of Master Leasing Plans. These plans survey an area on a landscape scale before leasing in areas where oil and gas development is likely to occur. This tool supports increased coordination, public participation and cumulative effects analyses instead of processing projects one at a time without evaluating the entire area. The reforms are intended for the BLM to fully analyze the many values available on our public lands before making oil and gas leasing decisions that can vastly alter the landscape.

I have witnessed 3 major energy development `booms' in Wyoming, including one for coal and two for oil and gas, as well as lesser ones related to uranium and, recently, wind. Too often, the impulsive bursts of mineral and economic development have overshadowed the need for measured and well-planned growth. Despite continued calls over the years by a broad range of interests for cumulative effects analyses, which are specified in the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws and policies that govern land management, seldom has this been done or done properly.

Wyoming Wildlife Federation's work collecting sportsmen and women letters over the past 18 months resulted in the opportunity for it to present those letters to Secretary Salazar last week. I had the pleasure of joining them as one of the sportsman who wrote to Salazar, and we are all appreciative of Salazar's responsible energy development practices. We thank Secretary Salazar because balance is crucial to protecting the wildlife, outdoor opportunities and sporting heritage that are such a rich part of Wyomingites lives.