76% of managed lands to remain open to oil & gas drilling
by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer
In early May, Western Colorado Congress joined with two other groups in formally protesting the proposed management plan for more than 1 million acres of BLM lands in and around Mesa County. We were pleased to sign on to separate letters submitted by the Wilderness Society and the Grand Junction Quiet Trails Group.
This plan is a big deal. The Grand Junction Field Office’s proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) will guide decisions on energy development, travel, lands with wilderness characteristics, air quality and more for the next 20 years.
We and our allies have been working for several years to protect conservation and “quiet use” recreation in this plan. The final RMP is disappointing in several key respects:
- The BLM failed to adequately address public comments. WCC members and allies submitted hundreds of comments based in their local knowledge of places and issues within the Grand Junction planning area – yet a majority of the comments were not considered “substantive” by the BLM, and thus were dismissed from the analysis.
- Only 44,100 of 171,686 acres inventoried are proposed to be protected for their wilderness character. This is inconsistent with the BLM’s own guidance, and ignores demonstrated public comments supporting these “lands with wilderness characteristics.”
- The BLM failed to minimize the impacts of motorized routes to protect natural resources and minimize conflicts among users. The agency is making an effort to manage overall road density, and has closed 126,000 acres to off-highway vehicles. However, the total number of routes that remain open to motorized use (2,357 miles) is much higher than what is closed (853 miles) or open to non-motorized use only (178 miles).
- The BLM is proposing to change the management of White Horse Mesa within Bangs Canyon from an emphasis on foot and horse travel to motorized travel, a proposal that was not within the range of alternatives presented to the public.
- The plan wrongfully considers claims under the controversial RS 2477 provision, in which some county governments have sought to designate historical rights of way as roads. Case law has established that such determinations must be made by the courts.
On the positive side, the BLM is utilizing a new tool called a Master Leasing Plan to help mitigate conflicts between oil and gas development and other resources (such as wildlife and wilderness). It’s also closing 295,600 acres to leasing in order to protect Gunnison Sage-Grouse habitat and both the Grand Junction and Palisade watersheds. However, 76% of the planning area remains open to oil and gas leasing.
The protest letters ask BLM Director Neil Kornze to determine if the Colorado BLM office has failed to consider relevant information in its process for the Proposed RMP. If Kornze does not adequately resolve these protests, the issues must then be resolved in court.
Although we expect the resolution process to move very slowly, we’ll continue to monitor it and keep you informed.