North Fork Valley gas leases 
should be withdrawn by BLM


If rumors that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar plans to resign his position at the end of President Barack Obama’s first term are true, he could do western Colorado a great service by intervening in the Bureau of Land Management’s resurrected plan to offer leases for gas drilling in the North Fork Valley.

As described in a new petition being circulated by the group We the People, to urge the Obama administration to withdraw the leases, “Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley is Colorado’s only rural winery region and has the state’s highest concentration of organic farms and ranches. It is an intimate mixture of private, small family farms — many certified by the USDA as organic — and public lands, including many managed by the BLM.”

Only last spring, under pressure from local citizens, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, enviromentalists, “locavores” and others concerned with the potential impact of industrial development in the North Fork region, the BLM was forced to withdraw its initial offering of 30,000 acres for lease.

Sal Pace, then a candidate to represent the 3rd Congressional District in Washington, also appealed to Salazar to withdraw the leases. “The current Bureau of Land Management RMP was drafted in 1989 and provides an inadequate description of the resources that exist in the Valley today. As such, the current environmental assessment does not address many concerns of the local population, nor does it adequately address the full spectrum of potential impacts.”

When the agency took the lease offering off the market last spring, Salazar’s leasing reforms were given much of the credit.

“I am glad to see that the BLM made the right decision,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, of Mountain West Strategies in Paonia, last May on learning of the withdrawal of the leases.

“Secretary Salazar’s leasing reforms worked,” he continued. “The agency took a closer look and realized that leasing these parcels was problematic and likely contrary to law and regulation. There will be many celebrations — big and small — in the North Fork Valley tonight. We also owe appreciation to our senators — Michael Bennet and Mark Udall — who helped get a comment extension and who passed along constituent concerns to BLM and others.”

The appreciation was sincere, but the celebrations were premature.

After hastily completing a final environmental impact statement based on a resource management plan more than two decades old, the BLM wasted no time in again offering nearly 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas leasing.

Anticipation that the withdrawal of the leases would postpone any new leases until a new resource management plan was completed was dashed.

The new version did remove almost 9,000 acres from the original offering, but it remains a threat to the area. North Fork Valley residents consider the 1989 resource management plan obsolete.

Written at a time when neither the small organic farms and vineyards of today, or the prospect of oil and gas drilling were anticipated, it offers no protection against the impact of industrial energy development on the North Fork rural economy.

Efforts to reverse the BLM decision are being led by the NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center ( which urges concerned citizens to “send letters and make phone calls to our decision-makers in Denver and Washington, D.C., stating that BLM must withdraw all 20 parcels and 20,555 acres in the North Fork Valley from the proposed lease sale.”

Referring to the original lease plan, Jim Ramey, director of Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, said, “It was a bad idea then and it is a bad idea now. This is all based on a 1989 resource management plan and science from 1985. It is really incredibly disappointing to see them move forward. Oil and gas and a peaceful, serene valley do not go hand in hand.”

Ostensibly, the BLM took the leases off the table to allow time for deeper analysis of the impact on the North Fork communities. The new offerings show little regard for the economy and culture and agriculture of the valley.

All the leases should be withdrawn until a more realistic and accurate resource management plan is in place.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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