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Court: Feds illegally approved natural gas drilling in elk habitat

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A federal judge ruled March 27 that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service illegally approved two adjacent natural gas drilling plans in western Colorado, finding that officials did not adequately analyze wildlife and climate impacts.

In the ruling U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock faulted the two federal agencies for failing to account for downstream emissions from drilling and failing to adequately address potential harm to mule deer and elk.

"This is an important win for our public lands, the climate and the tenacity of the North Fork Valley community. Requiring the Bureau of Land Management to clearly and properly analyze all potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of this large-scale industrial oil and gas development project is absolutely critical to protecting the rare and irreplaceable ecosystem of the North Fork Valley and all those who rely on it," said Natasha Léger, executive director, Citizens for a Healthy Community.

"High Country Conservation Advocates is thrilled with the court's favorable ruling," said Matt Reed, public lands director at Crested Butte's High Country Conservation Advocates. "The Bull Mountain area is home to important populations of elk and mule deer, iconic species increasingly under threat from surrounding oil and gas development. Ensuring that impacts from this project are considered, analyzed, and adequately addressed is critical to maintaining their long-term vitality in the Upper North Fork."

In January 2018 Citizens for a Healthy Community, High Country Conservation Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit to challenge the 146-well Bull Mountain Master Development Plan and an adjacent 25-well project.

This area is primarily private surface ownership with a majority of public minerals. The BLM and Forest Service approved the drilling project after preparing an environmental assessment to analyze the environmental impacts.

In his ruling the judge said the Forest Service and BLM "acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and violated NEPA by not taking a hard look at the foreseeable indirect effects resulting from the combustion of oil and gas" in their environmental analyses.

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BLM, forest service, Natural Gas
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