Commissioners complain of feds’ land-use decisions

U.S. government overly restrictive, costing jobs in West, boards claim

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MEEKER — Rio Blanco and Garfield county commissioners on Tuesday voiced shared alarm about the impacts federal lands actions will have on local counties and economies.

The commissioners met to discuss a plethora of issues being handled by the Bureau of Land Management that affect the two counties, from oil shale leasing, to drilling on the Roan Plateau, to greater sage-grouse and travel management planning.

“Our public lands are under attack,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

The counties’ concerns that uses are being too restricted, and local job creation too hampered, by federal decisions led Rio Blanco Commissioner Shawn Bolton to suggest the federal government should pay some sort of tax for creating de facto wilderness.

“I know it’s a far-fetched idea. ... There should be some form or method of payment if they’re going to do that,” he said.

The federal government has a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program that helps compensate local governments for the fact that federal lands aren’t on tax rolls. But commissioners said those payments have been cut back.

Of concern to the counties are:

■ The BLM’s recent decision to proceed with major reductions in land potentially available for oil shale leasing in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, with particularly sharp cuts in Colorado. Colorado’s oil shale deposits are centered in the two counties, and Jankovsky and Bolton said the decision to make just 26,000 acres potentially available for leasing in the state means there will be little development in Colorado.

■ Its announcement that it is redoing its entire environmental analysis that led to the 2008 leasing of 55,000 acres on the Roan Plateau for oil and gas development. The counties say the agency instead should have dealt with only the three legal issues that a federal judge last year ordered it to reconsider in the analysis.

■ Its Grand Junction Field Office’s draft management plan, which proposes significant cutbacks in travel routes, including in western Garfield County. Garfield Commissioner John Martin said the closures would have consequences to Rio Blanco County also by preventing access to some of its lands from outside the county or forcing users to turn around on Rio Blanco County routes that are closed at the Garfield line.

■ Its consideration of national measures to protect the greater sage-grouse, a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection. The counties believe the measures would severely affect other uses such as grazing and oil and gas development on land identified as priority habitat.

“It was basically ‘Here’s the area we’re going to shut down,’ ” Rio Blanco Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said.

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