A second group of conservationists has filed a second lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over its resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office, particularly as it pertains to oil and gas leasing and development.
The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale and the Wilderness Society allege that the agency violated environmental laws and agency policies in adopting the plan, according to a news release.
The plan covers BLM lands and federal minerals in parts of Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, Ouray, San Miguel and Mesa counties, and covers a range of subjects, from recreation to livestock grazing to energy development.
In August, several other conservation and citizen groups also sued over the plan. They say the BLM illegally refused to consider a plan to end new fossil fuel leasing and not analyze how more oil, gas and coal development could harm organic agriculture, the climate and endangered species like the Gunnison sage-grouse. Those groups also said they plan to file a separate suit against the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contending the plan fails to ensure the survival of the Gunnison sage-grouse, which is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.
Work on drafting the new plan occurred during the Obama administration but it underwent changes under the Trump administration as it was being finalized. That led to the state of Colorado, some local governments, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and others raising concerns over things such as the adequacy of environmental protections.
“Our valley’s economy is powered by family farms, orchards, small businesses, and local ranchers. We insist that the federal government do better to protect our communities and our values, and we’re grateful that Senator Bennet agrees,” Scott Braden, interim executive director of the Western Slope Conservation Center, said in a news release Tuesday. “Today’s legal challenge is an important step toward holding the BLM and this administration accountable to our community, since they failed to do so in their plan.”
The BLM declined to comment on the suit.
The groups filing it say in their release that it “opens 95 percent of BLM land in the region to energy leasing while completely neglecting wilderness and other conservation values.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, has said the new plan opens no acreage to oil and gas development beyond what was available under the prior plan, but restrictions have been tightened to protect things such as agriculture, wildlife and scenic vistas.