Environment: BLM plans in-depth study of oil and gas leases on Colorado’s White River National Forest

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The BLM will analyze the environmental impacts of contested oil and gas drilling leases south of I-70, between Carbondale and DeBeque. Click for a full-size version.

BLM taking input during scoping phase of environmental study

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Lynx, elk, owls and other high country forest critters in western Colorado will get at least a temporary reprieve from potential oil and gas drilling, as the federal Bureau of Land Management announced last week that it will do an in-depth environmental study for 65 existing oil and gas leases on 80,000 acres of public lands managed by the White River National Forest.

The leases are spread roughly west to east along biologically important mid-elevation lands between Carbondale and DeBeque and overlap designated roadless areas. Conservation advocates have long argued that the sale of the leases was inconsistent with efforts to protect wildlife, water quality and other high-value natural resources. Continue reading

Public lands access advocates lose latest skirmish with Forest Service over recreation fees

Court says private concession companies don’t have to meet agency standards for recreation fees on public lands

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — One of the legal efforts to try and check the recent proliferation of public land access fees was rebuffed by a federal court in Washington, D.C. last week. U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that private companies running recreation facilities on federal lands don’t have to follow the same regulations as agency managed facilities.

In a worst-case scenario, the ruling could open the door to more widespread fees for trailhead parking and other types of access that have traditionally been free, said Kitty Benzar, president of the West Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group dedicated to eliminating fees charged for access and recreation on undeveloped public lands.

Continue reading

Federal judge slams BLM for Utah ORV plan

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Some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest will get a reprieve from the impacts of motorized use, as a federal court rejected an ill-conceived BLM management plan in eastern Utah. bberwynphoto.

Court ruling repudiates Bush-era policies that favored exploitation over preservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week rejected a bush-era land management plan in Utah, requiring the Bureau of Land Management to go back and consider the destructive impacts of motorized use in some of the state most cherished wild areas.

The Richfield-area resource management plan had designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.  

According to environmental groups, the plan prioritized motorized recreation, threatening world-famous southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte. Continue reading

Colorado wary of greater sage-grouse listing

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Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

State officials want to balance fossil fuel development with wildlife conservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite the fact fossil fuel development is devastating wildlife habitat in northwest Colorado, state officials are pressing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep greater sage-grouse off the endangered species list.

In a press release, Gov. John Hickenlooper‘s office described  oil and gas drilling as “vibrant economic activities,” and touted voluntary conservation activities shaped by local stakeholders as an alternative to a federal conservation plan.

“Given the unique landscapes and natural resources in Colorado, a Colorado-based solution is more practical that one handed down by the federal government,” Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We hope the Bureau of Land Management will look at the public-private partnerships that have been so successful in Colorado as a model on how to get things done.” Continue reading

Biodiversity: BLM releases draft version of greater sage-grouse conservation plan for northwestern Colorado

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

 

FRISCO — These days, the vast sagebrush ocean of the Intermountain West is under siege by drilling rigs, sprawling exurban development and, in some cases, poor grazing practices on public lands.

Altogether, those pressures have degraded habitat across big swaths of the landscape. The damage is reflected by the sharp decline in greater sage-grouse populations. The birds have disappeared from half of their former range and are a candidate for the endangered species list, likely to be designated as threatened or endangered.

The listing could come as soon as 2015 — unless federal land managers and local governments can agree on a conservation plan with enough safeguards to satisfy the biologists who will consider the listing.

The Bureau of Land Management, which administers much of the territory with key sage-grouse habitat, is working toward that goal in the west-wide National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Effort, and last week released a draft environmental study for northwestern Colorado for a 90-day comment period. Continue reading

Court clamps down on renegade Nevada rancher

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Desert tortoise. Courtesy USFWS.

Court affirms BLM’s authority over public lands grazing

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some of those self-styled sagebrush rebels just can’t take a hint, even — or especially — when it comes from a federal judge.

Starting in 1993, the Bureau of Land Management has been trying to prevent Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy from grazing his cattle where he has no legal right to do so.

Bundy has pretty much ignored all polite requests to cease and desist, while his cows trample habitat for protected desert tortoises and damage ancient Native American cultural sites.

Last week a federal court issued a ruling that once again affirms the BLM’s right to to remove the trespassing cattle. The decision affirms a previous finding by the same court, made in 1998 and later upheld on appeal. Continue reading

Finding balance between energy development, conservation

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Graph courtesy Center for Western Priorities.

New report highlights need for more emphasis on land protection

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Public lands in the West are being leased for oil and gas production at a steady rate, but setting aside lands for non-industrial purposes has not kept pace — and it’s not just Republicans who are to blame.

The last time Congress  protected public lands was under an omnibus public lands bill that set aside more than 2 million acres of wilderness and established three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, and more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers.

Since then, both parties have emphasized fossil fuel production for the past decade, according to a coalition of advocacy and conservation groups who released a new report last week outlining the need to protect at least as many areas as are being leased for drilling and fracking. Continue reading

Colorado: Fire danger creeps up in the high country

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The fire danger is currently rated as high in most of Colorado’s north-central mountains.

BLM lands in NW Colorado already under Stage 1 fire restrictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a bone-dry June, some public land managers in Colorado are starting to enact fire restrictions to lessen the chances of a human-caused wildfire start.

Summit County only picked up about 15 percent of the long-term average precipitation in June, for example with .19 inches at the official National Weather Service site in Dillon, compared to the average 1.14 inches. High temperatures for the month were about 4 degrees above average.

The White River National Forest (Eagle and Summit counties) hasn’t issued any restrictions yet, but lands administered by Bureau of Land Management in  parts of northwest Colorado have been under Stage 1 restrictions since June 27. Continue reading

Threats, attacks on federal workers increase in 2012

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A National Park ranger was killed in the line of duty in 2012, the first such incident since 2002.

Watchdog group tracks federal data to identify year-to-year trends

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Attacks and threats against federal workers on public lands increased in 2012, with violence against U.S. Park Police officers reaching a record level, according to figures compiled by federal agencies and analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

According to the figures, reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in wildlife refuges and in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks.

The year began with the shooting death of Mount Rainier National Park law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1. Anderson was only was the ninth ranger killed in the line of duty since the National Park Service was founded in 1916.  A park ranger was last killed in 2002, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, while chasing drug traffickers. Continue reading

New wilderness push launched in Congress

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette introduces far-reaching conservation bill

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A wilderness bill pending in Congress would protect about 750,000 acres in Colorado.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Facing an uphill battle in Congress, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (CO-1) this week launched a new push for more wilderness in Colorado. The Colorado Wilderness Act of 2013 would protect 31 wilderness areas and two potential wilderness areas, totaling about 750,000 acres, across the state. Continue reading

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