Preparing a plan

BLM getting public input on draft

The Bureau of Land Management was looking for public input on its Resource Management Plan for land under control of the Little Snake Field Office on Thursday.

Charles E. Fulton attended the meeting, and the 88-year-old son of a homesteader told officials what was on his mind.

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"The wild horse program is a farce," he said. "They should eliminate the herds. They're destroying the county worse than the motor bikers."

BLM officials made note of Fulton's complaint, and moved on to address other issues.

Input from the public was exactly what the bureau was looking for on the recently completed draft of the RMP that will guide the use of 1.3 million acres administered by the Craig office.

A Wednesday meeting in Steamboat Springs drew about 50 people, and a handful of Maybell residents attended the first meeting Tuesday, expressing opinions on everything from Off-Highway Vehicles to oil and gas development.

"What we're looking for is comments with substance and good rational included," BLM Planning and Environmental Coordinator Jeremy Casterson said.

"We're getting a lot of good questions, and people can still have time to make comments."

Casterson encouraged the public to mail questions or comments on the RMP to the bureau, or use the BLM Web site to e-mail suggestions before the May 16 deadline.

Now to the future

The current RMP was approved in 1989, and when questions arose about considering Vermillion Basin as a wilderness study area, a decision was made by the bureau to revise the entire plan, rather than one specific area.

Moffat County Natural Re----sources Director Jeff Comstock is impressed with the job done by the BLM in securing public input, but he also has concerns about the plan.

"We are deeply concerned about the legality of the wilderness proposals, and the land likely contained in them," he said. "Also the three recommendations for wild and scenic designations for the Yampa River. We are opposed to the recommendation."

Luke Schafer, with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, is especially concerned about energy drilling in Vermillion Basin, an area designated "too wild to drill" by the Wilderness Society in 2006.

"Our beliefs on Vermillion Basin are pretty simple. It's too wild to drill," he said. "Once you get in there and disturb the surface, you'll never get back to wilderness quality."

Schafer said that any drilling in the basin would cause irreparable harm to the area.

Marianna Raftopoulos, consultant for Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the plan for a 1 percent disturbance of the surface of Vermillion Basin is acceptable to developers.

"We feel that the plan allows for minimal impact on the area while keeping scenic areas protected," she said. "Two-thirds of the basin has high to medium oil potential. Disturbing 1 percent (of the surface area) will be low-impact to the area, and the industry is good with that."

Wes McStay came to the public input meeting for a final chance to express his concerns about energy development on public lands. He is a member of the Northwest Colorado Stewardship organization, first formed to come up with alternatives for the RMP.

"I have concerns about the elk, the Greater Sage Grouse and the White-Tailed Prairie Dog," he said. "I want oil and gas development to proceed slowly and carefully. I encourage leaning more toward the conservative side."

The Resource Management Plan will move forward after the May 16 deadline for public input. As the comments are evaluated by the BLM, changes will be made to the document reflecting the input from residents.

A final RMP will be drafted around November, at which time a 30-day protest period begins, Casterson said.

A governor's consistency review also takes place for 60 days following the document's release.

Once the protests are resolved, the plan will likely take effect in the summer of 2008.

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