Western Resource Advocates Working to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse

Joro-Walker“Opening up the Ashley National Forest to expansive oil and gas drilling turns this critical sage-grouse area into an industrial zone. At a time when the nation is working to protect this species, the federal government is taking a step backward by allowing development that will threaten the survival of this population of sage-grouse.”

– Joro Walker, Senior Attorney and Utah Office Director with Western Resource Advocates

Greater Sage-Grouse Heading Towards Extinction

The Greater sage-grouse is the largest grouse in North America, and its range is sagebrush country in the Western United States. The Greater sage-grouse forages and nests on the ground and depends upon sagebrush habitat for cover, nesting and food. They are known for their elaborate courtship rituals – gathering in the spring to perform impressive strutting displays.

The grouse were once found in sixteen states, but between 1988 and 2012 the population declined 98%. Residential building and energy development sprawling across the sagebrush have led to the decline of the Greater sage-grouse from 16 million to around 200,000-500,000 today. The species is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), along with many states, have undertaken planning in an effort to protect the Greater sage-grouse and prevent it from being listed as an endangered species.

Agencies Approve 400-Well Oil and Gas Project on Utah’s Ashley National Forest that Threatens Important Sage-Grouse Habitat

The U.S. Forest Service and BLM in 2012 decided to open up the South Unit of the Ashley National Forest for Berry Petroleum to drill and frack for oil and gas. The area lies in the southwestern Uinta Basin, located between Price and Duchesne, Utah and near Strawberry Reservoir in the headwaters of the Duchesne River. The agencies approved the drilling and fracking of 400 oil and gas wells, which would operate for up to 50 years on more than 40 square miles of the National Forest. The project would turn this area of the Ashley National Forest into an industrial zone, complete with a spider web of roads, traffic, wellpads, and production facilities.

Western Resource Advocates Filed Litigation to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse on Ashley National Forest

Western Resource Advocates, representing WildEarth Guardians, filed litigation establishing that the Forest Service failed to safeguard sage-grouse habitat when the agency approved a 400-well oil and gas project on the Ashley National Forest. We are working to prevent the drilling of wells that would damage the most pristine areas of the Forest and threaten the survival of the local Anthro Mountain sage-grouse population . We are committed to securing an improved Ashley National Forest resource management plan that willprohibit or minimize road building, oil and gas development, and motorized use in roadless areas and other sensitive habitats.

Western Resource Advocates is using the National Forest Management Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Utah Water Quality Standards, and other legal mandates to reduce the impact of the 400-well oil and gas project on sage-grouse and their habitat.

Ashley National Forest Oil and Gas Drilling Would Impact More than Grouse

Both the Forest Service and BLM acknowledged that drilling and fracking would have untenable consequences beyond impacts to the grouse, including

  • the destruction of 20,000 acres of designated Inventoried Roadless Areas that have been protected to preserve their pristine nature;
  • increased sedimentation in streams that are already struggling to comply with water quality standards; and
  • increased particulate matter and smog pollution, even though the region is already failing to comply with federal particulate and smog limits.

Project Staff

Rob Dubuc

Rob Dubuc

Staff Attorney, Utah Office

Joro Walker

General Counsel