Energy leases in ferret habitat suspended |

Energy leases in ferret habitat suspended

Special to the Daily/NBIIBlack-footed ferret

DENVER ” Gas drilling is on hold for now in a part of northwest Colorado that’s home to the endangered black-footed ferret.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals last week overturned the sale of oil and gas leases where ferrets have been released as part of the federal government’s efforts to restore the weasel-like animals.

Environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had raised concerns before the May 2006 auction by the Bureau of Land Management about the potential impacts on the ferrets. Environmental groups protested the sales.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals overturned some of the challenged leases on about 63,000 acres, saying the BLM violated the law because it didn’t consider whether further environmental analysis was needed.

The BLM didn’t explain its rejection of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s views, according to the ruling.

“Many people have worked very hard to restore the ferret to Colorado, but even our most endangered wildlife has been offered up by the BLM in the rush to drill,” said Erin Robertson, a biologist with the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems. “Now the BLM must reconsider before allowing the home of Colorado’s only black-footed ferrets to become a well field.”

Northwest Colorado is a hot spot of the state’s natural gas boom, with thousands of new wells projected for the area over the next 20 years.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said the agency is reviewing the decision on the leases to determine the next step.

“We believe it (the ruling) was based on procedures,” Hall said.

He said further analysis and consultation with other federal agencies might be needed.

Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until a small colony was found in western Wyoming in the 1980s. The animals have been bred in captivity and released in the wild in several states, including in Colorado, to rebuild their populations.

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