BLM lease plan draws fire

Opponents denounce drilling near Dinosaur monument

A coalition of environmental groups and Dinosaur residents are denouncing Bureau of Land Management plans to auction mineral leases along the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument.

On May 12, the BLM plans to offer for auction about 1,100 acres of public lands for oil and gas development near the monument's southern entrance and along Harpers Corner Drive.

Many of the monument's visitors enter through the scenic drive. Dinosaur business owner Bill Mitchem worries that oil and gas drilling within sight of the road would hurt the area's tourism industry.

"The town of Dinosaur is just now starting to understand how we can capitalize on our assets. Our biggest asset is Dinosaur National Monument," said Mitchem, owner of the Bedrock Depot in Dinosaur.

"As we seek to attract tourists, we need our biggest asset to remain intact. We want people to come to the monument, and I'm just not sure how oil and gas development fits into the equation," he said.

Two of the parcels lie under land that is part of U.S. Rep. Dianne DeGette's canyons wilderness legislation; the legislation would permanently establish the land as wilderness, thereby blocking drilling and development in the future.

The parcels have been nominated for auction by oil and gas companies. The BLM is legally obligated to offer the land it manages for mineral leasing as part of its mission to facilitate multiple use of public land, BLM spokesman Steven Hall said.

The auction will mark the second time in just more than a year that the BLM has offered land near the national monument for auction.

The BLM auctioned 27 mineral leases covering 44,460 acres near the monument's entrance in February 2004. Represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, the Coalition of Concerned Park Service Retirees and several conservation organizations sued, and the cases still have not been resolved.

Conservation groups are urging the BLM to withdraw the contested parcels now.

"A prudent course would be to remove the Dinosaur Monument area parcels from the lease sale and consider the area for permanent protection, especially since the last round of lease sales were hugely controversial," said Reed Morris, Craig field organizer for the Colorado Wilderness Network.

"Unfortunately, it looks like the BLM is instead allowing oil and gas companies to get in while the getting is good' at the expense of monument visitors and neighboring communities," he said.

The BLM has withdrawn parcels after the public raised concerns about them, Hall said.

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