The Bureau of Land Management approved a controversial resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office, incorporating some changes requested by Gov. Jared Polis but still drawing outcry from activist groups and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
The plan governs oil and gas leasing, recreation, livestock grazing and other types of land uses on some 676,000 acres of BLM surface lands and nearly 1 million acres of federal mineral estate in parts of Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, Ouray, San Miguel and Mesa counties.
According to a Federal Register notice by the BLM, the approved plan is a slightly modified version of the management alternative the agency had proposed last summer.
“It provides for a balanced combination of goals, objectives, allowable uses and management actions,” the notice says.
That alternative differs significantly from what BLM officials in Colorado previously identified as their draft preferred alternative, with fewer environmental protections and reduced restrictions pertaining to oil and gas leasing and development.
The agency received 13 protests on the proposal from parties with legal standing. Among the protesters were Gunnison, Ouray and San Miguel counties, the town of Paonia and citizen and conservation groups.
“After a thorough review, the BLM determined that the Proposed RMP is consistent with existing State plans; however, as a result of the Governor’s comments, the BLM adopted a new controlled surface use stipulation for fluid mineral leasing,” the BLM said in the Federal Register notice. “Its purpose is to ensure the function and suitability of big game winter range, migration and production areas.
“The BLM also modified a stipulation to enhance the Gunnison Sage-Grouse habitat protection.”
That bird is federally listed as a threatened species.
In a BLM news release, Dan Gibbs, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, welcomed revisions the BLM made to its proposal last year.
“We appreciate the productive dialogue with BLM, and the recent changes made to the … (p)lan to allow state wildlife managers the opportunity to provide input into mitigating the impacts of oil and gas development on sensitive habitat for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep, as well as the inclusion of (oil and gas) No Surface Occupancy protections for just under 33,000 acres of critical water and riparian resources, especially in the North Fork Valley in Delta and Gunnison counties near Paonia,” Gibbs said.
But Bennet, D.Colo., said in a news release, “This plan, and the BLM’s attempt to rectify local concerns, is completely inadequate. Throughout the process, counties and local stakeholders recommended changes to the plan, but they were met with a lack of transparency and eleventh hour changes from the BLM.
“Rather than do the hard work to build consensus and balance interests, the Trump Administration’s energy dominance agenda in Washington overruled the concerns of Colorado counties.”
The plan particularly concerns some activists as it pertains to oil and gas leasing in the North Fork Valley.
“We are disappointed the BLM is moving forward with a plan that clearly disrespects the wishes of the North Fork community, ignores a decade’s worth of community input and endangers our economic future and our public lands and waters — along with the farms, ranches, vineyards and recreation businesses that depend on them,” said Patrick Dooling, executive director of the Paonia-based Western Slope Conservation Center.
Said Natasha Léger of Citizens for a Healthy Community in Paonia, “This is exactly the type of federal action that is responsible for accelerating climate and environmental degradation, which cannot be allowed to stand if we have any hope of protecting present and future generations, rare and irreplaceable ecosystems like the North Fork, and meeting Colorado’s goals for a clean and renewable energy future.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas trade association, said, “The law of the land provides for multiple uses of public lands, including oil and natural gas development, and BLM has put in place enhanced protections and further restrictions on oil and natural gas activities based on public comments.
“No new acreage is open for oil and natural gas development than the previous RMP, but restrictions to protect agriculture, wildlife, scenic vistas, and other natural resource values have all been tightened.”