A top Interior Department official said recently that the Bush administration will put the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana off limits to oil and gas development for at least the next four years, until a study of the rugged area is completed.
BILLINGS, Montana A top Interior Department official said recently that the Bush administration will put the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana off limits to oil and gas development for at least the next four years, until a study of the rugged area is completed.
Rebecca Watson, the agency's assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said the study likely would not begin until 2007 and could take about two years to complete. That means President Bush likely would not make the final decision on drilling, even if he is re-elected. A second Bush term would end in January 2009.
She said the time would allow owners of leases in the Front to explore selling or swapping their leases with the government or groups interested in keeping the Front undeveloped.
Watson stopped short of saying the administration was closing the door to future development in the Front, but added, "This could be an area that we don't want to see developed."
Her comments followed the agency's confirmation that it was halting work on an environmental impact study for the Front's Blackleaf area, where a Canadian company wanted to drill.
Watson said rather than pursuing an environmental study for a specific area of the Front, officials are planning the much broader "landscape level" study that would not begin until 2007.
Many environmentalists praised the decision to halt the Blackleaf study but said there is still a need for long-term protections for the Front, which stretches about 100 miles along the eastern crags of the Rockies south of Glacier National Park. It is home to grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife.
Source: Associated Press