Best laid plans of BLM produce controversy and a need for more time

On the floor in my living room are three thick documents which, when stacked on top of each other, are nearly a foot high.

The combined documents are the draft resource management Plan for the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office, encompassing roughly 1 million acres in and around the Grand Valley.

The draft plan was released in late January. It is of more than passing interest because the wya those lands are managed for the next 20 years will have a significant impact on our lives, our recreation and our economy.

I recently moved the hefty stack of documents from a shelf in my office at The Daily Sentinel to the floor in my house in hopes I would find more time at home to comb through the plan before the rapidly approaching deadline for public comment on the draft resource plan expires. So far, it hasn’t happened.

I’m very sympathetic to the Mesa County commissioners’ request that the BLM extend by another 90 days the public comment period for the draft plan. As a story in the Sentinel Thursday made clear, the commissioners have a number of issues to contemplate related to the plan, including the status of many roads and the effect on the local economy of the plan — including the extremely complicated travel management portion of the plan. I can certainly understand why the commissioners and their staff need more time to drill down into the minutiae of the plan and attempt to extrapolate its effects on the county.

The commissioners aren’t alone. Other groups and individuals have also requested more time to comment on the Draft Resource Management Plan.

When I talked with BLM spokesman David Boyd on Friday, he said the BLM is “considering those requests” to extend the public comment deadline, but it has not yet determined whether an extension will be granted.

I, along with many others, hope they do so. If not, the public comment period for the plan will end April 25.

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Public comment for another important BLM management plan hasn’t started yet, and now it will be postponed a while longer.

The draft resource management plan for the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, which lies west of U.S. Highway 50 between Delta and Whitewater, was expected to be released March 8, but that release date has been pushed back, Boyd said. No new date except “later this spring” is projected.

Boyd said he didn’t believe there were any major problems with the plan. It is just being reviewed in Washington, and “a lot of people have to look at these things.”

The Dominguez-Escalante draft management plan was developed over two years by the BLM and the citizens advisory committee for the conservation area. It is said to be not nearly as hefty as the d resource management plan for the field office, but it will provide a detailed look at how various portions of the conservation area — from wilderness to off-road vehicle areas to archaeological resources — should be managed.

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The BLM also made news last week with anticipated new rules related to possible commercial oil shale development.

For months, the agency has taken heat for backing away from rules for commercial oil shale leasing that were developed during the Bush administration and for being slow to produce a new programmatic environmental impact statement for oil shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported Friday, a new provision that is expected to be included in the environmental statement would allow energy companies to obtain commercial leases to federal oil-shale lands if they have proved their technology is viable on other lands.

It makes sense to me. Demonstrate that you have a technically and economically feasible means of producing fuel from oil shale, and then you can obtain a commercial lease.

A spokesman for Shell, which is currently working on an experimental oil shale technology on federal land, was guardedly optimistic about the proposal last week, while acknowledging that his company needs more time to examine the proposal in detail.

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Officials in Alaska were less sanguine about a BLM management plan released last week for the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope.

The reserve is a huge expanse of ground roughly the size of Indiana. In one of his last public acts as secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar announced Thursday he had signed a record of decision (meaning it is final) for the management plan for the reserve.

Under that plan, the reserve is divided roughly in half between areas protected for wildlife and other conservation values, and lands available for oil and gas development. The plan also allows construction of oil and gas pipelines through the reserve.

But members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and some local residents complained that the management plan closes off too much land to production and makes it to difficult to construct pipelines. Representatives of a number of environmental groups not surprisingly disagreed.

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So it goes for the BLM as it strives to plan for millions of acres of public land, knowing full well that the public rarely agrees on how those lands should be managed.

Bob Silbernagel can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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