Prime hunting parcel off auction block

A prime parcel of hunting ground in Northwest Colorado has been pulled from a government mineral rights leasing auction, which is scheduled for Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management removed three parcels from Thursday's oil and gas lease auction in Denver.

A coalition of conservation groups filed a protest July 26 in an attempt to pull the three parcels from the auction. BLM officials said the ground was pulled from the auction so they could discuss the matter further with the Division of Wildlife.

Two of the three parcels are in the Piceance Creek basin in Rio Blanco County. The other tract is in Browns Park in Moffat County.

The three deferred parcels are in Colorado State Wildlife Areas and are managed by the BLM.

Jerry Strahan, assistant field manager with the BLM's Little Snake Field Office in Craig, said the parcels are being deferred to coordinate with the Colorado Division Of Wildlife on wildlife issues.

The parcel near Browns Park, known as the "Wiggins unit," is on the north side of Cold Springs Mountain and is considered a prime hunting area in Colorado.

The federally owned parcels of land are nominated by interested parties to be auctioned off for rights to mineral leases, Strahan said.

He said the BLM is mandated to lease the parcels as a public use of the land, and leasing parties have 10 years to produce from the mineral rights, or the rights return to the bureau.

Nine parcels containing 9,466 acres are scheduled for lease at the auction Thursday.

Half of the money generated from mineral leases goes to the state, and the other half goes to the general treasury, Strahan said.

Reed Morris of the Colorado Wilderness Network said that the conservation coalition, consisting of five organizations, asked the bureau to defer these parcels because of what the land offers to the public.

"These are important habitats with public access to hunting and wildlife viewing areas," Morris said. "The increased interest in oil development has them considering areas for lease that they have not considered before."

The BLM is looking at 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin, Morris said. The other two parcels deferred from the auction are in Rio Blanco County and are controlled by the BLM's White River Field Office.

The BLM is working on a Resource Management Plan for Northwest Colorado, including the White River and the Little Snake management areas. Leasing parcels inside these areas before the plan is completed would take away future management options, according to the protest filed by the conservation coalition.

It also states the leasing of these parcels would violate the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal acts passed to protect public lands.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

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