The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a proposed resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office that ignored activists’ calls for closing more areas to oil and gas development.

The 20-year plan would close 44,220 acres to oil and gas leasing, unchanged from the status quo, while declaring 871,810 acres as open to leasing. Some activists want to see less leasing in the North Fork Valley, part of the area covered in the plan.

“It’s not surprising that under this administration the input of locals and tens of thousands of others was likely to be ignored in favor of ‘energy dominance,’ especially with that decision coming down from D.C. But our health and public lands are worth more than that, and we’re not done fighting for them,” Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson of Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community said in a news release.

In a BLM release, Uncompahgre Field Manager Greg Larson said, “We listened and took the public’s valuable input into account, which will help us move forward in a way that balances use, resources and conservation. This plan will continue BLM’s tradition of supporting the local economies while maintaining the quality of life and recreational opportunities we all enjoy.”

The BLM says the plan updates and combines the 1985 San Juan/San Miguel resource management plan and the 1989 Uncompahgre plan, guiding public land use on about 675,800 acres of BLM-managed lands and 971,220 acres of federal mineral estate in parts of Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties.

The agency said in its release that the plan balances energy and mineral development, traditional uses such as livestock grazing, “and recreational opportunities that have made the area one of Colorado’s premier recreation destinations.”

The plan is now open to a 30-day protest period. It’s also subject to a 60-day review by Gov. Jared Polis, who based on his record could seek to have some of the activists’ oil and gas concerns addressed. But already some environmentalists appear to be readying for a legal battle over it.

“The plan is a slap in the face to Colorado’s commitment to reduce climate pollution and the reality of the climate crisis,” Rebecca Fischer, climate and energy program attorney with WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release. “We’ll see if it stands up in court.”

The BLM had deferred some of its efforts to lease North Fork Valley acreage pending its revision of the plan, and agreed to consider a citizen-proposed plan to keep energy development away from sensitive areas in the valley. But the BLM rejected that approach in the plan issued Friday.

Conservationists and citizen activists say the new plan would result in more than a half billion tons of new climate pollution over 20 years, and follows a draft plan the BLM released last week for eastern Colorado that would triple annual greenhouse gas pollution from oil and gas development by 2037, compared to the current plan for that area.

The BLM says the new Uncompahgre plan will contribute about $2.5 billion in regional economic output and support about 950 jobs over 20 years. It says the anticipated economic benefits come from energy and mineral development, and particularly natural gas drilling, and from grazing and recreational activities such as hunting and mountain biking.

The plan differs in some notable respects from the BLM’s preferred draft plan alternative. The agency says in various documents that the plan released Friday “is a reasonable combination of objectives and actions” from the draft alternatives it considered, and also reflects other factors that “include changes in policy and guidance and cooperating agencies’ input and special expertise.”

According to the BLM, among other components of the new plan, it would:

• allocate 616,640 acres as available and 59,160 acres as unavailable for livestock grazing; 

• include 122,130 acres in eight special recreation management areas;

• retain 3,950 acres currently designated as open to cross-country motorized travel; 

• recommend 104 miles on 16 river segments as suitable for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. 

It would designate 30,190 acres as areas of critical environmental concern. But Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity said it would remove some existing such areas, and fails to include a number of other areas the BLM had proposed for inclusion in its draft proposal. The plan also drops a draft proposal to designate a dozen ecological emphasis areas.

More on the plan may be found at https://go.usa.gov/xnpgD.

 

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