On March 21, BLM's Kremmling Field Office issued its proposed Resource Management Plan for the federal lands it manages: approximately 377,900 surface acres of public lands and 653,500 subsurface acres of mineral estate in Jackson, Grand and Summit counties and portions of Eagle, Larimer and Routt Counties. This new management proposal and master leasing plan for North Park is an improvement on earlier plans for the important fish and wildlife area and includes protections for the gold medal fishery and riparian areas along the North Platte River and some wildlife habitats, but falls short of the comprehensive, landscape-level planning envisioned in the MLP tool. Recognizing that this is BLM's first time to apply the tool in Colorado, we are quite optimistic that the upcoming process and outcome will be better in South Park.
CWF submitted comments on the plan on April 21, in conjunction with 4 other organizations. In the comment letter, we recommended greater riparian setbacks, confirmation that the plan will incorporate BLM's approach for management of greater sage grouse, based on current science consistent with its programmatic environmental impact statement for grouse; and that stipulations should not be subject to the standard criteria for exceptions, modifications and waivers.
BLM releases Colo. leasing plan aimed at balancing drilling, habitat protection
Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, March 21, 2014
The Bureau of Land Management is set to implement a key component of onshore oil and gas leasing reforms that the agency says will better protect pristine landscapes in north-central Colorado while also facilitating energy development.
At issue is a revised resource management plan (RMP) amendment for BLM's Kremmling Field Office that includes the pristine North Park region that has sparked battles in recent years between conservationists and the agency over proposed oil and gas leasing activity.
BLM published in today's Federal Register a final environmental impact statement <http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/land_use_planning/rmp/kfo-gsfo/KFO_PRMP_FEIS.html
(EIS) for the RMP revision that includes a special land management tool for oil and gas development within the 390,000-acre North Park area, which includes a pristine, glacier-carved valley amid towering mountain peaks that is so biologically diverse that some have christened it the "American Serengeti."
BLM is proposing to adopt a so-called master leasing plan (MLP) for the area. MLPs are a major part of the Interior Department's 2010 onshore oil and gas leasing reforms and are designed to guide oil and gas leasing and development across the most environmentally sensitive federal lands in the West.
The North Park MLP is one of 16 BLM is developing in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming; none has been completed and put into place.
The plans seek to identify large blocks of unleased federal lands with high mineral potential that also hold special importance to hunters, anglers, hikers, off-roaders and wildlife. To avoid conflicts, the MLPs would place some lands off limits to leasing while requiring that others be developed in phases, with tighter pollution controls or with a lower density of roads and well pads.
But industry and even some supporters have expressed doubts given the slow rollout of MLPs across the West
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The proposed MLP for the North Park area would close 14,000 acres to leasing and set no surface occupancy stipulations on an additional 184,000 acres.
Included in that 184,000 acres are 11 designated "core wildlife areas," which BLM says have "high value to multiple species, including elk, mule deer and Greater Sage-Grouse." The 11 core wildlife areas would cover 56,000 acres in Jackson and Grand counties.
The proposed revisions to the 30-year-old Kremmling Field Office RMP are open to a 30-day public protest period, ending April 21, after which BLM is expected to issue a record of decision approving the plan this fall.
Stephanie Odell, manager of the Kremmling office, said in a statement the RMP "is based largely on the comments we received from the public" and state and local cooperating agencies.
"We believe the Proposed Plan provides a balanced approach to managing the public's land and resources within the Kremmling Field Office for the next two decades," Odell said.
But the North Park valley is already heavily leased, and it happens to sit atop the Niobrara Shale formation, which stretches along Colorado's Front Range and has sparked a shale oil boom in the Centennial State.
"Every RMP we're seeing coming out of BLM is less open to oil and gas development, and more restrictive," said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance.
Sgamma said the new proposed restrictions will discourage industry development of important domestic energy resources. She said the alliance may file a protest, though she said it still needs to review the revised RMP and the proposed MLP for the region.
But she noted that BLM is developing RMP amendments in Colorado and other Western states specifically focused on managing greater sage grouse habitat. Those plans could add additional restrictions for energy development on federal land.
"At that time I'm pretty sure we will need to be taking legal action," Sgamma said.
But conservation groups, which initially nominated the North Park area for an MLP several years ago, were pleased with BLM's actions, though they say the overall RMP revisions fall short on several fronts.
"We appreciate the revisions BLM has made between the draft and final plan in regard to MLPs," Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Center for Responsible Energy Development, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the proposed MLP and other parts of the resource management plan did not fully meet our
expectations for fish and wildlife in this critically important region for hunting and fishing."
Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation's public lands policy director, said she agrees.
"Taking the time now to consider how to balance fish and wildlife resources with the potential for oil and gas development should pay benefits down the road for everyone who cares about Colorado's great outdoors," Zimmerman said in a statement. "That's why we encourage BLM to find a better balance that would conserve North Park's outstanding fish and wildlife habitat."