Anglers support bill curbing fire sale of public lands

Bill disallows wasteful system that diverts public land management resources.

For Immediate Release

Corey Fisher
Senior Public Lands Policy Director
Trout Unlimited
(406) 546-2979,

(July 20, 2020) WASHINGTON D.C. — Trout Unlimited today voiced support for legislation that helps modernize the federal leasing system and facilitate responsible energy development on public land.

The Leasing Market Efficiency Act introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop the practice of non-competitive leasing. In the leasing process, lands are offered to oil and gas companies, who bid on them during a competitive auction. Lands that do not receive a bid – often areas with little to no oil and gas potential – are offered later at rock-bottom prices, tying them up with layers of bureaucratic red tape.

“Of the 2.5 million acres offered for lease since 2017 in Nevada, less than 10 percent of the acreage offered has been sold at competitive auction,” said Pam Harrington, the field staffer for Trout Unlimited based in Crescent Valley, NV.  “Anonymous entities nominate thousands of acres and the agencies must act on this. Overwhelmed, both the agencies and interested public tries to provide productive input. In the end, the sales are offered and largely nobody bids.  A month later, parcels are purchased noncompetitively at a $1.50 an acre.”

These leases are then often terminated after lessees stop paying rent resulting in little to no royalties coming back to the public. This practice also expends agency resources and  impacts management decisions affecting other resources.

“BLM’s noncompetitive leasing program is about as efficient as a steering wheel on a blindfolded mule at night, and taxpayers are left pulling the plow,” said Tester last week in an announcement about the pending introduction. “My legislation will cut down on government waste by increasing transparency, growing revenues, and—most importantly—saving taxpayer dollars. It’s time to end this broken system, which is spending critical resources on bureaucratic red tape that doesn’t benefit the public or our public lands.”

The bill does not change the BLMs mission or mandate, nor would it impact existing non-competitive leases. It would, however, amend the Mineral Leasing Act to ensure fair market value for all parcels leased by eliminating the process of offering up all the parcels that did not sell during a competitive auction for the minimal prices, sometimes as low as $1.50 per acre.

In the Tendoy Mountains of Montana, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are fielding  a proposal for exploratory drilling in the White Pine Ridge area, which includes sensitive trout streams and big game habitat. Several of the parcels included in the proposal were scooped up after the lease sale and purchased non-competitively.  

“Ending outdated practices like noncompetitive and speculative oil and gas leasing is just common sense and good government,” said Colin Cooney, the Montana Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited,“When the Bureau of Land Management entertains these proposals, it needlessly diverts staff time away from other priorities, like fish and wildlife conservation, outdoor recreation, and managing oil and gas development where it can be done responsibly. We want to thank the Senator for his work on this important legislation.”

TU’s policy is to encourage energy development in a way that meets the needs of people while eliminating, minimizing, or mitigating the impacts to coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.

Read the bill here.