The Bureau of Land Management has yanked nearly 150,000 acres of parcels containing greater sage-grouse habitat from its upcoming Colorado oil and gas lease sale in December.
It’s also delaying the sale for a week, until Dec. 13.
The agency noted in a news release late Friday afternoon that the state of Colorado had asked that it not offer parcels containing the habitat in the sale.
Pulling the habitat from the sale also appears to ensure the BLM’s compliance with a federal judge’s order pertaining to public comment periods for lease sale proposals involving greater sage-grouse habitat.
The BLM had been considering offering well over 200,000 acres of leases in its December sale, mostly in northwest Colorado. With the removed acreage, it currently is planning on offering nearly 83,000 acres involving 81 parcels.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called for deferring offering the sage-grouse acreage until the BLM finishes amending its 2015 greater sage-grouse management plan for Colorado. The acreage the BLM said it is withdrawing covers 142 parcels totaling about 148,797 acres, the agency says.
“We appreciate the input from the state of Colorado, especially given their role in managing wildlife, and look forward to continuing to work with the state on managing public lands in Colorado,” Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said.
The BLM’s action appears to answer, at least in the case of the December sale, the question of how it would respond in Colorado to a September Idaho ruling by U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush. Bush issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit, ordering that in the case of lease sales involving greater sage-grouse habitat, the BLM must revert to longer public comment periods rather than follow parts of a new agency policy designed to streamline leasing.
Conservationists say the ruling means the BLM must reinstate 30-day public comment periods on environmental assessments associated with lease sale proposals, and allow for a 30-day protest period on any final lease sale notice. It had been unclear whether the BLM would be able to provide lengthier comment/protest periods for sage-grouse habitat included in the December sale while still being able to include the habitat in that month’s sale.
For now, anyway, the BLM continues to indicate plans to provide comment and protest periods of less than 30 days in the case of a March Colorado sale it is planning that also includes greater sage-grouse habitat. Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity has said that failing to comply with the judge’s order would put the sale in legal jeopardy.
The BLM has said only that it is analyzing the Idaho decision to determine what impact it might have in Colorado.
It says the notice for the December sale will be published Oct. 26, initiating a 10-day protest period for the sale.
“BLM will use the additional time to address the complex input we received from the state of Colorado and others, and determine which parcels to offer for the December oil and gas lease sale,” Hall said.
Hickenlooper and others including the town of Paonia have objected to the planned inclusion of some 2,800 acres in the North Fork Valley in the December sale, saying the BLM should first complete a new resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office. As of now, that acreage continues to be included in the planned sale, but that could change by the time of the sale notice.
Hickenlooper, the town of Paonia, some North Fork Valley activists and others also have been critical of the abbreviated public comment opportunities associated with the sale.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, the two conservation groups involved with the Idaho suit, say the reasoning applied by the judge in the case of greater sage-grouse habitat applies more broadly, and could leave any leasing by the agency under the shorter comment timeframes legally suspect.
The Western Energy Alliance industry group has said the BLM should appeal the Idaho ruling.