The U.S. Forest Service has struck down an unpopular plan to open federal land in the Ruby Mountains in Northern Nevada for oil exploration.
The agency announced Thursday it won’t allow oil and gas leases on almost 53,000 acres of forest land in the iconic mountain range, about 370 miles north of Las Vegas.
Bill Dunkelberger, supervisor for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said his decision was based on overwhelming opposition to the idea and “unfavorable geologic conditions” that suggest there is little to no oil and gas potential in the area.
Since it began reviewing the proposal in 2017, the service received more than 14,000 mostly negative comments, including protests from conservation groups, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.
“Public comments were nearly unanimous in favor of conserving the Rubies as an important place for wildlife, namely mule deer, sage grouse and trout,” said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, in a written statement.
Late last month, Cortez Masto introduced a bill to ban oil and gas leasing throughout the forest service’s 450,000 acre Ruby Mountains Ranger District.
Cortez Masto issued a statement Thursday commending the forest service for “recognizing what the majority of Nevadans have loudly said.”
“While today’s decision is a significant victory for the coalition of conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, small businesses and Nevadans who stood up, there is still more we must do to prevent any future attempts to develop these lands for potential oil and gas leasing,” the senator said. “I will continue to fight in the Senate for the passage of my Ruby Mountains Protection Act, which would write into law that oil and gas leasing in the Rubies is prohibited and specifically ensure the protection of those beautiful public lands for generations to come.”
That bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
The land under consideration extended for about 75 miles along the range’s western slope, from Lamoille Creek in the north to Sherman Creek in the south. The area is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe, the largest national forest in the lower 48 states, which covers 6.3 million acres in Nevada and eastern California, including the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas.
According to forest service officials, the land had never been drilled for oil or gas, but there had been some limited activity in the past about five miles outside the forest boundary.
The Bureau of Land Management requested the evaluation of the land after a prospective developer expressed interest in the area.
Dunkelberger said the negative response to the proposal played a critical role in the decision to reject it.
“Receiving so many comments shows how engaged the public is with this project,” the forest supervisor said in a written statement. “Their involvement is critical in getting a firm understanding of what concerns our communities have, what they value, and how our work and decisions can best serve their needs.”
The forest service will accept objections to its decision over the next 45 days.
The decision does not impact possible oil and gas leases that may be offered on neighboring BLM land, including parcels that could come up for auction in June.
Open for objections
Anyone opposed to the forest service’s decision to reject possible oil and gas leases on almost 53,000 acres in the Ruby Mountains can submit an objection within the next 45 days. Objections can be emailed to email@example.com with “Ruby Mountains Oil and Gas Leasing” in the subject line, faxed to 1-801-625-5277 or mailed to: Reviewing Officer, Intermountain Region U.S. Forest Service, 324 25th Street, Ogden UT, 84401.
Documents and maps related to the proposed oil and gas lease area are available on the agency’s website.