The Trump administration plans to lease all 54,000 acres of Nevada’s Ruby Mountains under consideration for oil and gas development, according to public records released this week.
The records, obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the U.S. Forest Service plans to auction public land for drilling and fracking that includes crucial winter habitat for mule deer, priority habitat for greater sage grouse, and creeks harboring the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout.
“The Trump administration is poised to destroy one of Nevada’s most spectacular places just to appease the fossil fuel industry,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center. “It’s really outrageous so see the Forest Service just ignoring what Nevadans want and what science requires.”
The documents show that the Forest Service plans will require drilling or fracking to be done from public and private lands adjacent to national forest lands, but scientific evidence shows that won’t protect water or wildlife in the area. These stipulations simply shift harm to Bureau of Land Management lands next to the national forest, where drilling rigs, roads, well pads and other infrastructure could be constructed.
The records released this week indicate the Forest Service’s current plan. It has not issued a formal final decision on oil and gas leasing in the Rubies.
Earlier this year, 10 environmental groups submitted detailed comments to the Forest Service about the potential harm from oil and gas development in the Ruby Mountains and surrounding valleys. These comments included a memorandum from Nevada hydrologist Tom Myers, who found that “no surface occupancy” stipulations fail to protect surface water and groundwater.
“It is not possible to drill for oil or gas under the south Ruby Mountains without putting surface water and groundwater resources at risk,” Myers wrote.
The stipulations also fail to protect wildlife and their habitat, such as mule deer migration corridors and sage grouse mating grounds.
Data from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, included in the department’s comment letter to the Forest Service, shows that Nevada’s largest mule deer herd spends as much time in the valleys adjacent to the Ruby Mountains, where drilling and fracking would take place, as in the protected Forest Service parcels on top of the mountains. The same is true for sage grouse, whose mating grounds are primarily in the valleys.
“Animals don’t recognize boundaries,” said Donnelly. “This plan simply pushes the harm to wildlife habitat a mile away. The consequences of drilling and fracking will be just as dire whether it’s on Forest Service lands or on BLM lands right next door.”
The Ruby Mountains are among the most iconic landscapes in the Great Basin and have widespread public support. The Forest Service received more than 10,000 comments about the leasing proposal, nearly all of them opposed to it. Conservation and sportsmen’s groups and outdoor retailer Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the Elko Daily Free-Press opposing the leasing. Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto also has spoken out about the Rubies, saying she’s concerned that “expansive oil and gas drilling will threaten this pristine and sensitive area.”
Ruby Mountains by Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.