BLM to lease solar energy parcels in Colorado

Large-scale solar could add to the state’s renewable energy mix

Solar energy development zones in western U.S.

Solar energy zones around the southwestern U.S. would yield thousands of megawatts of electricity if fully developed. Click on the map to visit a BLM website with links to detailed maps of the specific areas.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After years of planning, the Bureau of Land Management is holding the first competitive auction for development of solar energy on public lands in Colorado.

Under Ken Salazar‘s leadership, the U.S. Department of Interior established a regulatory framework for solar development with a programmatic study that resulted in the designation of solar energy zones.

The Oct. 23 auction will award preference rights to submit a right-of-way application and a plan of development for commercial solar energy projects on three parcels of BLM-administered land, totaling 3,705 acres, in Conejos and Saguache counties in South Central Colorado.  Continue reading

Public lands: Forest Service eyes new rules for summer activities at ski resorts

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The U.S. Forest Service is taking comments on new rules governing various uses on public lands under permit to the ski industry.

Agency may authorize fees for uphill skiing, snowshoe travel at resorts on national forests

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Can you harmonize with the natural environment while speeding down a mountain zip line?

It may depend on exactly how fast you’re going, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which is rolling out a new set of rules to govern the permitting of summer recreational installations at ski areas operating on national forest lands.

In one of the biggest changes that would affect other private businesses near resorts, the agency would back away from a long-standing policy that precluded authorization for facilities that could be provided on nearby non-Forest Service lands. The proposed rules are posted at  http://www.fs.fed.us/specialuses. Continue reading

Colorado: Conservation groups challenge Forest Service over motorized routes on the Pike and San Isabel NF

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Motorized use on the Pike and San Isabel National Forest is at issue in a lawsuit in federal court.

Lawsuit alleges agency didn’t analyze the impact of new motorized routes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation groups say the Pike and San Isabel National Forest erred in sanctioning hundreds of miles of motorized routes in a contentious 2009 plan that highlighted all the ongoing user conflicts on public lands.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the groups claim the Forest Service failed to consider the potential harm to forest resources that could result from motor vehicle use on some routes, many of them created illegally over the course of decades of inadequate off-road vehicle management and enforcement on the forests.

“The Forest Service is rightly required to ‘look before they leap,’” said Melanie Kay of Earthjustice, attorney for the groups. “We’re not asking the Forest Service to ban motor vehicle use on the forests or to deny anyone reasonable access or recreational opportunities. Rather, we’re protecting the interests of forest visitors and the forest itself by ensuring that the agency makes well-informed decisions and does so in accordance with laws and regulations that have been on the books for decades.” 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

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 wilderness bills bottled up in Congress

Half a dozen proposals for land protection span more than 1 million acres

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Proposed new wilderness areas include open meadows on the west flank of the Williams Fork Range. bberwyn photo.

acorn creek

The proposed Acorn Creek wilderness addition would add important wildlife habitat to the existing high-elevation Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area.

By Bob Berwyn

*Click here to learn more about this weekend’s hike in proposed new Summit County wilderness area

SUMMIT COUNTY — There may be a huge backlog of wilderness bills in Congress, but conservation advocates aren’t about to give up on their efforts to preserve public lands in Colorado. Read more about the political wrangling over wilderness in this Summit Voice story.

In fact, the recent oil and gas boom on the Western Slope has recharged wilderness protection efforts, as supporters rally around the new “equal ground” theme, asking President Obama and Congress to protect at least as many acres as are allocated for energy development.

Along with being ecologically important, protected areas are increasingly seen as critical to the region’s recreation economy. Protected areas also enhance property values in adjacent communities.

In Colorado, there are six proposals that would expand wilderness by more than 1 million acres. The biggest is U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette‘s Colorado Wilderness Act, which includes 31 areas for a total of 750,000 acres, including many chunks of mid-elevation lands that are crucial for wildlife. Continue reading

The most anti-environmental budget ever?

GOP aims to slash spending for public lands, environmental programs

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Rhetorical GOP attacks on public lands and the environment culminated this week in a proposed budget that would slash funding for public lands management and environmental programs.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Given the vapid rhetoric from House GOP leaders the last few years, a full frontal assault on public lands was inevitable. It came this week, in the form of proposed massive budget cuts for public lands and environmental programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Overall, the interior funding bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee this week cuts $5.5 billion — 19 percent — from Fiscal Year 2013 levels, covering the Department of the Interior, the EPA, the Forest Service, and various independent and related agencies. Continue reading

Public lands: Advocacy group looks to boost Latino visitation and engagement at national parks

‘Four Stops’ tour features social media coverage

Pueblo del Arroyo, Chaco

Pueblo del Arroyo, Chaco Culture National Park in New Mexico, one of the stops on a tour aimed at boosting Hispanic engagement with national parks. Photo courtesy NPS.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Some National Park Service officials have long expressed concern that the country’s changing demographics could affect park visitation. Currently, only 9 percent of the nation’s approximately 54 million Latinos visit the country’s national parks each year, according the American Latino Heritage Fund.

One of biggest barriers to entry is awareness, according to the Hispanic Access Foundation, which is sponsoring a “Four Stops” tour starting this week boost turnout and  protect parks from oil and gas development for future generations.

Foundation president Maite Arce and her family will complete the 950-mile tour with stops at Dinosaur National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Arches National Park and Chaco Culture National Park in New Mexico. You can follow the Arce family on Facebook and Twitter. 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

Biodiversity: Feds issue new report on greater sage-grouse

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Greater sage-grouse, courtesy USFWS.

Survey of studies provides regional context for conservation efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal scientists hope that a new report with extensive data on greater sage-grouse will help land managers develop more effective conservation strategies. The Baseline Environmental Report was released by the U.S. Geological Survey  last month.

“This report summarizes several decades of work on sage-grouse populations and sagebrush habitat. It will serve as a useful tool for land and wildlife managers and provides a needed range-wide perspective,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. Continue reading

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