Wildlife advocates want more up-front planning
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — There’s more wrangling over oil and gas drilling leases in Colorado, as wildlife advocacy groups are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed lease of three North Park parcels totaling about 2,200 acres.
According to National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul, some of the parcels could impact important sage-grouse and mule deer habitat.
“Hunters, anglers and many others have asked the Colorado BLM to approve master leasing plans in North Park and South Park because of the vital resources that must be balanced in both areas,’’ said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
Conservation groups around the state want the BLM to finalize comprehensive plans before proceeding with more leases in sensitive areas. Those plans should include safeguards for important fish and wildlife habitat, they say.
Similar issues have cropped up recently with regard to proposed leases near lands managed by the National Park Service, as well as in the North Fork Valley, near Paonia. The BLM decided to defer some of the proposed leases, which probably encouraged conservation groups to push for additional deferrals.
Parcels for leasing are generally suggested by fossil fuel development companies based on their potential to produce oil and gas.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation have filed a formal protest of three parcels totaling about 2,200 acres in North Park, scheduled for a May 9 lease sale. The groups said that the BLM resource management plan covering North Park, as elsewhere in Colorado, is several years old and is being rewritten.
“Not only is the BLM offering leases in habitat important to sage-grouse, mule deer and other wildlife, but it’s doing so based on a plan that’s nearly three decades old,’’ National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul said.
“The BLM needs to finish updating the document instead of going ahead with piecemeal decisions now that will undermine its ability to take a more informed, comprehensive look later.’’
Colorado BLM officials have indicated they might consider a master leasing plan in North Park, Saul added.
North Park is the headwaters of the North Platte River, which flows north into Wyoming and feeds gold-medal and blue-ribbon fisheries in both states. The area also encompasses key habitat for greater sage-grouse, mule deer and elk and is home to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, a major nesting spot for waterfowl and habitat for moose and river otters.
Deferring the leases will help ensure that “any future development that occurs is the result of a thoughtful, collaborative plan that balances energy development with other multiples uses — including hunting and its significant economic contribution — and the needs of the community,’’ the two groups wrote in their protest.