February 10, 2014

South Park Updates

The South Park basin, consisting of nearly 1000 square miles, is unparalleled in Colorado and perhaps in the country.  It thrives through a unique combination of natural treasures: its watershed, outdoor recreation including its prized gold medal stream fisheries, wildlife, viewsheds, paleontological artifacts, and ranching heritage.  The headwaters of the South Platte River in South Park are the source of a substantial amount of the Denver metro area’s drinking water.  Its underground aquifers that connect to surface waters are fragile with extensive fractures in the geological formations.

South Park is an immensely popular destination for US and international tourists and metro area recreationists as it is located just two hours from the metro area. A cluster of heavily used state parks and wildlife areas are Spinney Mountain State Park, Charlie Meyers Dream Stream and State Wildlife Area, Elevenmile, Badger Basin, James Mark Jones, Knight-Imler, 63 Ranch, Tarryall Reservoir, Teter, Tomahawk, and the Cline Ranch.

BLM intends to begin the master leasing planning process for South Park in late summer or early fall 2014.  Master leasing planning is a tool for making an assessment and land use decisions and resource protections that are specific to South Park for BLM lands. Decisions include determinations of where oil and gas leasing is appropriate, conditions under which the leasing may occur and best management practices. Resource protections also may include determinations of areas that will not be open to future leasing. CWF’s hope is that the process will result in a collaborative outcome that balances the diverse interests and protects important wildlife habitat, South Park’s watershed, its streams, playa lakes and its vistas.  CWF will participate actively in the process.  CWF had filed the application for master leasing planning in November 2011.

Earlier (as background)–

BLM had recommitted to the Park County Board of Commissioners at its January 2014 meeting to undertake a master leasing planning process for South Park later this year.  In addition, the Colorado Board of Land Commissioners decided at its February 6 meeting to defer offering a parcel in South Park for lease at its February 20 oil and gas lease auction. Both CWF and adjacent landowner Eddie Kochman made public comment urging deferral. Park County also wrote a letter

Enviros cheer BLM decision to craft oil and gas plan for pristine Colo. area Scott Streater, E&E reporter Published: Monday, February 10, 2014 The Bureau of Land Management has agreed to conduct a long-term plan for managing oil and natural gas development in a pristine area of south-central Colorado, drawing cheers from sporting and conservation groups that have long championed such an effort. BLM officials say they have committed to develop a master leasing plan (MLP) for the South Park region, which is renowned among outdoors groups for its world-class fisheries and pronghorn, mule deer and elk herds. But the area also sits atop a portion of the booming Niobrara Shale formation, which stretches along Colorado’s Front Range into parts of eastern Wyoming and northern New Mexico. MLPs, which are designed to guide oil and gas development away from the most environmentally sensitive landscapes, were a key component of sweeping federal leasing reforms announced in 2010 by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The agency in the past has proposed opening up sections of the South Park region to oil and gas leasing, including six parcels that were eventually deferred from a February 2013 sale after widespread complaints. Environmental groups including the Colorado Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation, along with leaders in Park County, argued that offering the parcels in the February lease sale would likely harm sensitive wildlife habitat in the region. They also said it could risk contamination of the Upper South Platte River, which provides drinking water to the Denver metropolitan area. The Colorado Wildlife Federation nominated the South Park region for an MLP back in 2011, and the group along with officials in Park County asked BLM to hold off on new oil and gas leasing until such a plan was conducted. South Park was one of five regions in the state that BLM identified in 2011 as meriting development of an MLP. But BLM decided in February 2012 not to craft one for South Park because it said at the time that there were no producing oil and gas wells on federal land in the region and thus there was no reason to spend the time and effort to develop an MLP. Ironically, some of the reasons BLM cited in 2012 for not conducting an MLP for South Park are being used today by the agency to justify the need for a plan. “The area is largely unleased and contains a rich variety of natural resources,” Steven Hall, a BLM spokesman in Denver, said in an emailed response to questions. “Taking a closer look at oil and gas leasing makes sense for the area, which is one of several MLPs BLM Colorado is preparing.” Hall, who said it will take several years to complete the MLP for South Park, also mentioned that “wildlife and conservation groups as well as the local community” have made it clear to the agency that they want to see an MLP for the region. The MLP will be conducted as part of the agency’s planned update to BLM’s Royal Gorge resource management plan, which covers not only the South Park region but also the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, Hall said. BLM is currently working on three MLPs in the state, he said, including north-central Colorado’s North Park, a region that includes a pristine, glacier-carved valley amid towering mountain peaks that is so biologically diverse that some have christened it the “American Serengeti.” Conservation groups hailed BLM’s decision as an important step toward balancing energy development with the need to preserve the pristine region. “Park County has a unique opportunity to develop a master leasing plan for South Park with the BLM that will become a model for balancing world-class fish and wildlife resources and recreation with future energy development, while preserving the unique watershed that supplies more than 40 percent of drinking water to the Denver metro area,” said Suzanne O’Neill, the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s executive director. Bob Meulengracht, Colorado energy coordinator for Trout Unlimited, said the South Park MLP along with ongoing analysis of future oil and gas leasing at Pike-San Isabel National Forest “presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a look at the South Platte drainage as a whole and come up with a comprehensive plan — from the valley to the peaks — to protect this iconic trout fishery.”

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