New legislation aimed at speeding up public lands energy development would undercut common-sense leasing reforms and safeguards for fish and wildlife at a time when oil and gas production is already on the rise, a coalition of hunting and angling groups said Thursday.

The three bills, H.R. 4381, H.R. 4382 and H.R. 4383, introduced this week by members of Colorado’s U.S. House delegation, would undermine federal leasing reforms that encourage responsible planning and reduce  the number of lease protests, said Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. The reforms require federal officials to address potential conflicts upfront when considering impacts on fish, wildlife and habitat.

“Common-sense leasing reforms have helped restore balance to energy development on public lands,’’ said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited. “We’ve seen how facing potential conflicts head-on has reduced the number of lease protests and has given the industry more certainty. We shouldn’t roll back the safeguards for our public lands.’’

The sportsmen’s coalition is led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.

Another provision in the bills would allow development to proceed before resource management plans can be revised or adjusted. These plans analyze where development can and should occur while considering the potential effects of energy projects on resources such as air and water quality, fish and wildlife.

“By the time the BLM gets around to updating resource management plans, they’re so old they don’t reflect current, on-the-ground reality. Sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts support responsible energy development, which means BLM must take a hard look at critical fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and the potential cumulative impacts on both,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

The push to accelerate development on public lands comes amid record natural gas production and high rates of oil production, according to federal statistics. The Bureau of Land Management reports that 4,244 drilling permits were approved on federal lands last year, compared with 3,260 new wells drilled during the same time.

Meanwhile, the BLM states that of the 38.4 million acres of public land under lease in fiscal 2011, just 12.3 million acres – or less than one third – were in production.

“Some members of the energy industry claim that inadequate opportunities exist to develop and drill public lands,” said Tom Franklin, senior director of science and policy for the TRCP. “The numbers, however, tell a different story. Sportsmen support the responsible development of our public lands energy resources, but we believe that before new leases are issued, particularly those that are located in areas important to fish and wildlife, industry should develop leases that already exist.”

Besides jeopardizing public lands fishing, hunting and recreation that help sustain rural economies, several provisions in the bills would restrict the public’s ability to weigh in on decisions affecting public lands, said Michael Saul, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation. Saul noted that under the bills, it would cost $5,000 for every protest of a lease or permit.

“These bills are yet another giveaway to the booming, generously subsidized oil and gas industry by, among other things, erecting insurmountable financial barriers to the public’s right to object to leasing and permitting decisions,’’ Saul added. “The bills also would restrict, perhaps unconstitutionally, courts’ abilities to remedy illegal agency actions and would pointlessly revoke sensible Interior Department reforms.”

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