Fighting to protect North Fork Valley

Needle Rock, the well-known rock formation between Paonia and Crawford, gleams in the late afternoon sun. Some Paonia residents are protesting a plan to lease nearby areas for energy development.


PAT OGLESBY/Special to The Daily Sentinel

Needle Rock, the well-known rock formation between Paonia and Crawford, gleams in the late afternoon sun. Some Paonia residents are protesting a plan to lease nearby areas for energy development.

It was only a few months ago that many residents of the North Fork Valley were celebrating news that the Bureau of Land Management had decided not to open for energy development thousand of acres of public land in and around the valley.

That initial skirmish, however, proved just the beginning of what might be a long-term battle to protect the North Fork Valley.

Once again, the BLM has proposed leasing 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley.

The pressure to develop stems in great part from a politically popular drive for the U.S. to become energy independent, a carrot that would require tapping every available source of non-renewable energy.

To get there, some politicians might force the BLM to issue energy leases, regardless of the impact.

Under Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Colo.) proposed “Providing Leasing Certainty for American Energy Act of 2012” (H.R. 4382), federal agencies would have been obligated to lease at least 25 percent of the lands proposed.

The bill also would have stipulated leasing not be delayed while federal Resource Management Plans, such as the 25-year old plan adhered to by the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office, are rewritten or re-considered.

Coffman’s proposal died in the Senate, but don’t expect efforts such as this to go away.

Repeats are bound to appear, particularly as some starry-eyed politicians see the U.S. closing in on the elusive Golden Fleece of energy independence.

Which means another and then another push to open public lands for energy development, a surge recognizing no boundaries, whether it’s critical winter range for elk and deer or near an organic farm or prime western Colorado farmland.

The problem, as Elaine Brett of Paonia noted Thursday in a letter to the editor, the BLM office overseeing the Paonia leases adheres to a management plan written in 1987.

Much in our world has changed in 25 years, yet the Uncompahgre BLM is latched to a world view dating from when Ronald Reagan was president.

At risk in the North Fork Valley are recreational and wildlife values around such popular sites as Lone Cabin Reservoir, Elephant Hill and Jumbo Mountain, one of the area’s most-popular biking/skiing areas.

Also included is Minnesota Reservoir, which some local residents maintain is the best mule deer habitat in the state.

There are, of course, many people quite happy with the status quo.

In one recent example, there was a large hue and cry when the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office proposed changing the way it manages the public shooting on East Orchard Mesa.

Listening to the pro-gun crowd one would think the BLM had proposed eliminating the Second Amendment rather than simply moving the shooting a quarter-mile farther east, away from the development that has grown up in the area.

That same BLM office has shown impressive elasticity in its management design, moving quickly (quicker than one might think the federal government can move) to adopt biking-centric areas north of Fruita to counter potential squabbles over land-use practices in that suddenly in-demand area.

Those working to save the North Fork Valley from unwanted development are concerned any decisions will be based solely on the 25-year old RMP and are urging the BLM to reconsider the impact of development before it’s no longer possible.

As was shown earlier this year, the BLM’s hands aren’t tied to development. Neither should they be tied to a plan conceived a quarter-century ago.


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