The nation’s public lands are important to all Americans –  including oil and gas producers, hunters, anglers and recreationists – and balancing multiple uses on the lands is crucial to maintaining their sustainability, a representative for sportsmen’s groups told a congressional committee Thursday.

Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s assistant energy director, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce that striking a balance between energy production and conservation on public lands is essential for sustaining quality hunting and angling, which contribute at least $76 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

The Missoula, Mont., resident also represented Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

“I firmly believe that responsible energy production that balances the needs of fish and wildlife habitats and water resources is achievable and is an important component of a sound economy,’’ Fisher said to the committee, which held a hearing Thursday morning on drilling rates on public and private land.

Federal figures show that oil and gas production is at record levels and the country’s dependence on foreign oil has dropped, the sportsmen’s coalition noted. However, some members of Congress are promoting legislation that would speed up leasing and drilling on federal lands – in spite of the fact that more than 7,000 drilling permits currently aren’t being used and leases on nearly 21 million acres are sitting idle.

“Some lawmakers and industry officials look at the increased drilling on private lands and conclude industry is being locked out of public lands. That’s not the case,’’ said Kate Zimmerman, public lands policy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Besides, public lands are different from private lands. They’re managed for more than private profits. Federal land managers have an obligation to conserve fish and wildlife and recreation values, all of which are critical to the long-term economic vitality of many communities in the West.’’

Hunters and anglers support responsible energy development on public lands and welcome recent common-sense leasing reforms that address potential conflicts upfront and have reduced the number of lease protests.

“Energy development on public lands that doesn’t consider its impacts on fish, wildlife and air and water quality fails to fulfill the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mandate and irreparably damages our nation’s outdoor heritage,’’ said Ed Arnett,  director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development. “It creates conflict and delays for companies and results in the kinds of poorly planned energy projects that drove down mule deer populations in western Wyoming and are increasing air pollution in parts of the Rocky Mountain West.’’

No one, including sportsmen, likes unnecessary regulations and rules, Fisher said.

“But we don’t think the measures in place to ensure balanced development are unduly blocking leasing and drilling. They’re helping maintain quality hunting and angling, which help sustain rural economies across the country,’’ he added. “Sportsmen in Montana, and throughout the West, rely on public lands to fill their freezers, make memories and pass on our traditions to our sons and daughters.’’

Logo courtesy of Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development

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