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Grouse measures defer drilling in much of Wyoming

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 4, 2014 at 5:24 pm •  Published: August 4, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The total area of federal oil and gas leases deferred in Wyoming to protect the greater sage grouse — ahead of next year's expected decision on whether the bird is a threatened or endangered species — substantially exceeds the combined size of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, U.S. Bureau of Land Management figures show.

In Wyoming, the 2,864 leases deferred in whole or in part to protect sage grouse cover 3.5 million acres, or 5,500 square miles. They include 40 leases covering 15 square miles which otherwise would be up for bid at the BLM's regular Wyoming oil and gas lease sale in Cheyenne on Tuesday.

Grand Teton and Yellowstone together total about 2.5 million acres.

Many of the deferred leases in Wyoming and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain region will become available after the BLM, over the next several months, wraps up a more than four-year process of instituting new land use regulations to protect the greater sage grouse, officials said.

After the updates to the BLM resource management plans are complete, the agency will ask the oil and gas developers who nominated the deferred parcels if they're still interested in drilling in those areas, said Beverly Gorny, a BLM spokeswoman in Cheyenne.

"It's entirely up to them and what their business plans are," Gorny said.

If the companies remain interested, many of the deferred parcels will be offered for competitive leasing under any new seasonal drilling restrictions, well-spacing requirements and other stipulations to protect sage grouse.

Whether those efforts will be enough to keep the ground-dwelling, chicken-sized bird off the federal threatened or endangered species lists remains to be seen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services faces a 2015 deadline to decide the bird's status for federal protection.

One petroleum industry group remains apprehensive that the sage grouse will prompt tough restrictions on drilling regardless of whether the species gets listed.

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