BLM drops parcels near national park from lease sale

Responding to widespread opposition, the Bureau of Land Management has dropped plans to offer more than 27,000 acres west of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand County in an oil and gas lease sale in June.

The agency said Monday it removed 20 parcels covering 27,529 acres in the county from the June 8 sale “due to low energy potential and reduced industry interest in the geographic area, as well as concern from local government and the public.”

The plans to lease the acreage drew objections from Grand County, the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, guest ranches, environmentalists, residents and others. Their concerns included the fact that the land lies within several miles of the park, in the headwaters of the Colorado River, and in a county that has no active oil and gas wells but is heavily reliant on tourism and agriculture.

“We understand concerns raised by Grand County and other stakeholders about offering these parcels at this time,” Kent Walter, the BLM’s acting deputy state director for energy lands and minerals, said in a news release. “We want to be sure they are still appropriate for leasing.”

The BLM continues to plan to offer more than 73,000 acres in Jackson, Routt, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties in the June sale, pending the resolution of formal protests against the sale. It had received at least a dozen protests to the sale, but a number of those targeted the Grand County parcels.

In a news release, Nada Culver, director of the BLM Action Center for the Wilderness Society, credited the agency for rethinking its plans.

“The lands proposed for leasing have little or no potential for oil and gas and the BLM’s own assessment identified a host of other values that could be at risk. Despite all of this critical information, the BLM was moving forward with lease sales that could have harmed our public land, our water, our wildlife, local communities, and potentially the air quality of a nearby national park,” she said.

The parcels had been nominated for leasing years ago, before a revision to the land use plan for the area was completed. Nominations typically are made by energy companies.

“It’s hard to determine whether the reason given by BLM, that there is reduced industry interest, is accurate,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group. “Someone nominated that acreage for a reason, so I would encourage whoever that is to renominate to show interest.”

Jeremy Nichols, with the conservation group WildEarth Guardians, said the BLM’s action “is great news for Colorado’s outdoors and the natural treasures of Grand County, (but) also reflects just how haphazardly the BLM is managing our public lands and minerals. It was shameful that they let these leases get to the point that locals had to file formal protests.

“And while we’re encouraged they’re now acknowledging how bad of an idea this was, BLM is still moving ahead to lease more than 70,000 acres where development is equally speculative.”


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