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A Letter from Colorado Wildlife Federation’s President and Board Chair, Robin Knox  

2021 – A Look to the Future

As we enter the second month of 2021- hopefully a year of recovery – Coloradans have experienced a wide gamut of emotions and experiences the past 11 months that were, and still are, extremely challenging. Our resilience, fortitude and patience have been sorely tested. Our hearts go out to those of you who have experienced loss as a result of the pandemic or wildfires that have ravaged Colorado. We hope that you are currently healthy and staying safe at home.

The Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF) is grateful for the efforts of all the first responders, firefighters and Parks and Wildlife staff that have worked so hard to protect homes and, critical CPW structures and wildlife habitats. We are also grateful that the beautiful Colorado out-of-doors offers a continuing relief from the pandemic movement restrictions.

Despite the disruption of life as usual, CWF has been, and will remain, actively involved in 2021, fulfilling our mission “to advocate and educate for the conservation of Colorado’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats for all.” Our advocacy work began in January with first Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting that discussed the potential actions related to the development of a wolf reintroduction plan, as mandated by the voters through passage of Prop. 114. The General Assembly’s 2021 session will resume beginning in mid-February.

However the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccine distribution continue to affect how Coloradans interact and meet with one another, CWF will continue to be actively engaged in the pressing wildlife management issues occurring across the state:

·       Making public comment in Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meetings on policy and management approaches for state wildlife area access, and management; development of the wolf reintroduction plan; involvement on a sportspersons’ access workgroup, and other issues as they arise

·       Continuing to oppose any development project on an East Vail parcel that would destroy vital bighorn sheep habitat in its severe winter range

·       Participating on the steering committee for Outside 285 corridor master planning to safeguard essential wildlife habitats and direct trails to areas without sensitive wildlife habitats

·       Working on an amicus brief in a lawsuit through the University of Michigan student law clinic in conjunction with NWF to safeguard specific sensitive wildlife areas that were not protected in the Rio Grande National Forest plan

·       Addressing problems with Bureau of Land Management’s proposed quarterly oil and gas leases during the pause ordered by the Biden administration and recommending improvements to the 2019 draft BLM Resource Management Plan for Eastern Colorado with emphasis on protecting South Park wildlife and habitat to safeguard specific sensitive wildlife areas

·       Participating in Colorado Outdoor Partners and its role in the coming regional partnerships which will focus on balancing wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation on public lands

·       Supporting the development of outside funding for the development of the wolf management plan to lessen the impact of potential expenditures from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife license fee cash funds.

Colorado is at a crossroads in the protection of wildlife and their habitats. The tremendous increase in outdoor recreational activity brought about by Colorado’s rapid increase in population and the need to get outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic have created even greater needs for protection and conservation of our wildlife resources here in Colorado through the work that is supported by CWF.

As a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit organization, we are extremely reliant on our citizen-based donations and grants we are able to garner. As an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation our Executive Director, our Issues Committee, and our Board Members work hard on your behalf so that you can continue to hunt, fish, wildlife watch, and garden with wildlife in mind in our great Colorado outdoors.

CWF’s annual raffle for the special Colorado Governor’s elk-hunting license is underway, culminating in the drawing on June 19. It is authorized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and proceeds benefit big game habitats in Colorado. This is one of the CWF’s fundraisers and we hope you will participate by purchasing an on-line entry.

We need your continued financial support now more than ever. The Colorado Wildlife Federation thanks all of our past, current, and future supporters who are passionate about Colorado’s wildlife and their habitats.

As a supporter, you can purchase elk license raffle tickets, or make a donation throughout the year anytime you wish by going to:

www.coloradowildlife.org  

The Colorado Wildlife Federation wishes you a safe, healthy and outdoors 2021!

Robin Knox, Board Chair

[email protected]

 

 

CWF continued to be very busy during January.  Here are some highlights below. If there are fish and wildlife issues you would like to discuss, please let me know!

— Suzanne O’Neill   [email protected]

President Biden places much needed pause on Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sales and finalizing Resource Management Plans

The Biden Administration’s pause January 27 on oil and gas leasing on federally-managed public lands provides a necessary opportunity to scrutinize the leasing program. CWF welcomes this pause. Many parcels that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has leased during the past several years have encompassed or overlapped severe winter range, production areas and migration corridors relied upon by big game for their survival. Colorado Parks and Wildlife defines severe winter range as “that part of the overall range where 90% of the individuals are located when the annual snowpack is at its maximum and/or temperatures are at a minimum in the two worst winters out of 10.” In addition, parcels in priority greater sage grouse habitat have been leased or offered for lease after the former administration tried to set aside the 2015 grouse conservation plans. Further, in some areas of Colorado, BLM has leased or offered parcels that have low oil and gas development potential but feature important wildlife values such as bighorn sheep severe winter range and production (birthing areas).

CWF also is pleased that the Administration paused finalizing BLM resource management plans. CWF has worked with others  for several years toward achieving a good plan for iconic South Park. The draft plan issued in June 2019 was fairly good but numerous improvements should be made. Now we have a great opportunity to move these recommended improvements forward for serious consideration.

Update re bighorn sheep severe winter range parcel in East Vail

On February 2 the Vail Town Council decided not to condemn the parcel in East Vail owned by Vail Resorts that is integral to the bighorn sheep herd’s very small severe winter range on a 5-2 vote. Vail Resorts has declined to sell the parcel to the Town of Vail and, therefore, can decide to develop this Booth Heights parcel in the future. This is unfortunate to say the least. A shame! The Town had worked diligently to locate an alternative site for housing so that the Booth Heights parcel would not be developed. Now the developer will build housing on the new alternative site but as stated above Vail Resorts retains its full ownership and development rights to the Booth Heights parcel. This means the “alternative site”  has become simply an additional site. CWF submitted a written comment letter on February 1  that focused on the science, as we had done previously at each stage of the developer’s quest during 2019 for approval of a housing project on the Booth Heights parcel.

30 x 30

The Biden Administration issued pledged to protect 30 percent of the lands and waters of the United States by 2030.  Here in Colorado, CWF  and several others are working toward what we think would be viable goals. In our view, goals should not be confined to protection but include conservation and restoration. This does not mean that anyone thinks we would start from scratch but instead would value areas that already are a good start toward reaching 30 x 30. We appreciate NWF ‘s visioning and thoughtful work to identify various conservation mechanisms on a national level. Stay tuned.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission adopts rules on wildlife protection effective January 15, 2021

During 2020 CWF and others worked diligently to craft our recommendations for wildlife protections.

Now that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s wildlife rulemaking is final, effective January 15 – with quite a good outcome after all the hard work,the next Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rulemaking is land reclamation after development of a site. We shall participate in this rulemaking as well because elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn rely upon good quality “green wave” of vegetation in spring for nutrition, and face challenges through drought, climate change, and development. And COGCC will convene a work group to tackle aspects of aquatic buffers that were left hanging.

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Early in this session of Congress, CWF will work hard to gain passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. In the last session we all gained 185 bi-partisan House co-sponsors. This time around, we are optimistic. This very important Act would address species of greatest conservation need in each state. For Colorado, they are enumerated in the Colorado State Wildlife Action Plan.

The work to balance wildlife conservation and trails on our public lands in Colorado 

CWF began its work to advocate balance between conservation of sensitive wildlife habitats and the planning and construction of new trails several years ago. We developed the first session on this topic at a Colorado partners in the outdoors conference in 2018. the following year CWF spearheaded drafting a resolution on this topic for the National Wildlife Federation’s annual meeting. Currently, I serve on a master planning steering committee to balance mountain biking trails with wildlife habitat needs in the Highway 285 corridor spanning four counties. Our first stage was habitat assessment and now we approach the next stage of trail proposals in an already fairly dense recreation area. I believe we can gain a satisfactory master plan IF all agree to steer clear of migratory corridors, birthing areas, riparian areas as well as areas inhabited by species of greatest conservation needs under the State Wildlife Action Plan. I shall be watchful and vocal as we consider requested locations for some of the proposed new trails.

If you desire additional information about any of these issues or want to know more about CWF, please email or call me.

 

 

Last week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Land Use Specialist, Elissa Slezak, presented an excellent webinar on July 1 in which she explains what types of fences pose barriers to deer, elk and pronghorn and types of wildlife-friendly fencing.  Some fences that continue to be barriers are old grazing fences that are not longer used, and with appropriate permission, are ripe for removal.  Some fencing is essential for wildlife, such as to funnel wildlife away from dangerous highway crossings.   During her presentation Elissa noted that a good way to gain more wildlife friendly fencing is to ask towns and counties to insert it into their codes and regulations.

If you would like to see this powerpoint, let me know at [email protected],

Also, Colorado Parks and Wildlife published the attached very good report several years ago, “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind.”     FencingWithWildlifeInMind

As the nation grapples with the many impacts of the corona virus (COVID-19) on our health and its substantial disruptions to us personally, the economy and our society, the Administration continues to move ahead with proposed regulations that will have adverse impacts to wildlife. As the national and global economy take a deep dive, and people’s focus has shifted to protecting and preserving health, safety and worrying about their livelihoods, the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue prioritize oil and gas and energy dominance use of public lands it manages. This energy dominance agenda disregards the needs of wildlife, and as Coloradans are distracted right now, it leaves most without an ability to weigh in on proposed decisions that will shape how our public lands are used and managed for years to come.

In late March, BLM held its quarterly oil and gas lease sale, spanning nearly 19,000 acres, many of which are located in northwest Colorado’s North Park. Nearly all of those parcels in North Park are located on lands with priority greater sage grouse habitat and big game winter range that, according to BLM, have low oil and gas potential. BLM had already leased plenty of public lands in North Park, including many that have low potential for oil and gas development but are important big game habitat. Unsurprisingly, just under half of the parcels offered for lease were actually sold.

BLM also is continuing with business as usual for two more lease sales in Colorado, scheduled for June and September. Public comments on the proposed September sale were due April 14 and the protest period for the June sale will begin very soon. Of course, CWF and NWF submitted comments by the April 14 deadline, pointing out again that the sale should be cancelled and then proceeded to list harm to wildlife if several of the nominated parcels are offered for sale.

And numerous parcels are in areas with low oil and gas potential as is apparent from BLM’s own analysis. The agency just doesn’t seem to take this reality into account. For the agency to continue on this track in the midst of the pandemic is irresponsible. These sales continue the disturbing trend of leasing millions of acres on Federal land with very low potential for development. Not surprisingly, lease sales in low potential areas lead to no bids, allowing the BLM to subsequently lease the vast majority of the acreage through a non-competitive process. This outcome is even more likely given the current state of the oil and gas market. This practice is not only unfair to taxpayers, but in locking up these acres for oil and gas interests, BLM fails to manage these lands for other uses and is thereby violating its multiple use mandate under the Federal Lands Policy Management Act (FLPMA). Moreover, this practice creates additional paperwork burden for little to no benefit to the State or to taxpayers. Given the national crisis, BLM should be working on lightening the paperwork burden and focusing on tasks that are truly essential. Leasing lands that are highly unlikely to ever be developed should not be considered essential.

BLM’s public comment periods for the final version of the Browns Canyon National Monument Resource Management Plan and also for the proposed motorized e-bike regulations for non-motorized trails are in process and these periods close, respectively, May 18 and June 9. (As to the motorized e-bike issue, there are an abundance of miles and trails open to motorized e-bike use. Our concern is allowing motorized e-bikes in the public lands back country within sensitive wildlife habitat. The proposed rule would direct its officers to allow that use through land-use planning processes.)

With all of these conflicts and risks to wildlife on our public lands, Coloradans deserve ample opportunities to weigh in on the plans and to speak out when necessary. But with the state’s COVID-19 orders and people’s attention rightfully focused elsewhere, this public input simply is unattainable, especially for many who have very slow internet service. Department of Interior Secretary often has stated that the Administration’s goal is to hear from local people. Therefore, it is mystifying why the Department is not doing everything possible to ensure public access. Holding public comment periods as though there are no barriers to participation seems to render this proclaimed intent meaningless.

BLM has a mandate to manage our public lands in a responsible manner that allow for multiple uses: outdoor recreation, conservation of wildlife habitat, and some resource development. But when the public is cut out of the process, everyday people are unable to respond in the way that industry can. In the context of oil and gas, by not acknowledging the current crisis, and acting accordingly, the Administration is giving industry the upper hand instead of ensuring that public lands here in Colorado are managed for the public’s benefit.

Simply put, the Department of Interior and its BLM immediately should delay all oil and gas lease sales and public comment periods on other planning processes until the pandemic subsides and at least “phase 2” has been in place for a period of time and is working.

— Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director, Colorado Wildlife Federation

Introduced July 12 This bill is a bold effort to reverse America’s wildlife crisis.  It will invest in on-the-ground conservation essential to help address species of greatest conservation need across the country, including Colorado’s species of greatest conservation need.  Colorado’s species of greatest conservation need are listed in the Colorado State Wildlife Action Plan. There are 55 “tier 1” species in Colorado that include Greenback, Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroat trout, Golden eagle, Greater sage grouse, Lynx, Mountain plover and Burrowing owl. There are an additional 104 species (tier 2) listed in the Action Plan of greatest conservation need.  We are working hard to gain our Congressional Representatives’ support on this bill. Help all of us achieve their co-sponsorship of this bill. There are now 157 co-sponsors of this bill!  Colorado co-sponsors and supporters include Rep. Ed Perlmutter,  Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado and Rep. Diana DeGette.

Our public lands are a vital resource that Coloradans – and Americans – value and enjoy for abundant wildlife and outdoor recreational opportunities. Pressure on blocks of sensitive wildlife habitat, migration corridors and wildlife populations is increasing on our public lands from numerous sources. Proliferation of outdoor recreational trails on public lands is becoming an increasing contributor to degradation and fragmentation of some important backcountry habitat blocks and is impacting wildlife species that are sensitive to human activities. Protecting intact wildlife habitats such as winter concentration areas and migration corridors must be valued in practice when proposing, planning, and constructing new and expanded recreational non-motorized trail-based development. It is important that legislators, public lands agencies, elected officials and the policy makers  – as well as users – fully consider wildlife needs when doing so.

By way of example, according to a 2018 peer-reviewed study, elk avoided trail-based recreation by distances that decreased from 1640 yards for ATV riding, to somewhat less for mountain bikers, down to 550 yards for hikers. If you would like to receive an electronic copy our literature survey, let us know. We appreciate the pilot by the State Trails Committee to change the planning, construction and maintenance non-motorized grant categories in grant applications. The wildlife and natural resources criterion now will be weighted at the same level as other criteria. New questions in the planning grant application require a description of how impacts to wildlife and habitat, including how fragmentation will be avoided or minimized. Applicants must now include maps of the proposed areas to help assess the proposed project on a landscape level.  It will be important to see how the State Trails Committee and CPW ensure planning grant awardees will work effectively with CPW during the planning process to implement the representations made in the application in response to these and other questions.

A promising project underway is “Outside 285” Master Planning.  A CWF representative serves on the steering committee. Click here for  Outside 285 map and info The goals are:

Our Focus of the draft plan (draft Environmental Impact Statement) is on South Park. We have worked with Park County and a large diverse array of interests for several years to safeguard the public lands that BLM manages in South Park. The South Park basin, consisting of nearly 1000 square miles, is unparalleled in Colorado. It thrives through a unique combination of natural treasures: its watershed, outdoor recreation including its prized gold medal steam fisheries, viewsheds, relatively undisturbed blocks of habitat for elk, deer, pronghorn, mountain plover and other wildlife, paleontological artifacts and ranching heritage. The draft is largely good for South Park, although a few tweaks are needed. 

We will supply our comments for your information soon. For example, the preferred alternative would prohibit surface occupancy within 2,642 feet of Gold Medal streams, rivers and full reservoirs and within 1,312 feet of the South Platte River. It also recognizes the need to protect a significant portion of drinking water supplies for Denver and Aurora originating in South Park with reasonable setbacks and by prohibiting surface occupancy within 5 miles upstream of public water supply system infrastructure. Surface occupancy for future oil and gas development would be prohibited in the BLM area of Reinecker Ridge, which is vital undisturbed big game habitat and within one-quarter mile of state and local government-managed wildlife areas, parks and conservation easements. CWF hopes you will make written comment to BLM during the public comment period.