BLM releases proposed plan for Northwest Colorado

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At a glance

The BLM’s proposed resource management plan:

• Implements a .6-mile protective zone surrounding sage grouse breeding areas, also know as leks, that would protect them from oil and gas developments.

• Includes a finding that three segments of the Yampa River totaling 20 river miles would be suitable for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic River System.

• Maintains 78,000 acres of existing wilderness study areas.

• Identifies 200,620 acres of lands as having wilderness characteristics that would be managed to maintain those characteristics including restricting oil and gas developments, among others.

• Allows for oil and gas development on 90 percent of 1.9-million acres of federal minerals on both public and private lands.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office released Friday its proposed resource management plan and final environmental impact statements.

The plan provides a guideline on how the Little Snake Field Office will seek to manage its 1.3-million acres of public lands and 1.1-million acres of subsurface mineral estate in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties for about 20 years.

Several issues are addressed in the plan, including energy and mineral development, special management areas for lands with wilderness characteristics, and wild and scenic rivers, among others, according to a BLM news release.

Also included in the plan are management plans for wildlife habitat for sage grouse and elk, among others.

The plan stipulates sage grouse breeding areas, also know as leks, would be protected with a .6-mile buffer zone that would restrict surface occupancy, such as oil and gas development.

The .6-mile buffer zone is an increase from the .25-mile zone proposed in the 2007 draft plan.

“What that essentially is saying is that we do not want to put oil and gas pads, or roads to those pads within .6 of a mile of a sage grouse lek,” said David Blackstun, acting field manager of the Little Snake Field Office in Craig.

New proposed sagebrush habitat protections have also been included in the plan.

The plans include voluntary incentives for existing oil and gas development leases, and mandatory requirements on new leases on 500,000 acres of high-priority sagebrush habitat and 1.5 million acres of medium-priority habitat.

Existing oil and gas leases in high- and medium-priority sagebrush habitat could receive exceptions to wildlife timing limitations if companies voluntarily limit surface disturbance to 5-percent of a lease, according to the release.

Requirements for new leases would be divided into sagebrush habitat priority levels. Up to 1-percent ecological disturbance would be allowed in high priority habitats, and up to 5-percent disturbance would be allowed in medium priority, according to the release.

“In the old resource management plan, there was no discussion of that type of percentage limitation,” Blackstun said. “It didn’t exist before.”

The plan also includes a finding from the Little Snake Field Office that three segments of the Yampa River, totaling 20 river miles, would be suitable for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic River System.

Blackstun said the office only determined if they would be suitable for inclusion into the Wild and Scenic River system, but Congress would have to designate the river portions into the system.

“The characteristics that made them suitable were free-flowing and some … outstandingly remarkable values,” he said.

The three segments were each different classes — one recreational, one scenic and one wild section, Blackstun said.

“We say, ‘OK, these are things that look like they are of interest and we will protect them the way they are today to preserve that status,” Blackstun said.

The plan also maintains 78,000 acres of existing wilderness study areas that are blocks of land “largely unblemished by the hand of man,” Blackstun said.

An additional 200,620 acres of lands were identified as having wilderness characteristics, other than the wilderness study areas, such as naturalness, solitude and opportunities for primitive recreation, according to the release.

Included in the lands identified with wilderness characteristics is the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin, which would be off-limits to oil and gas developments.

The Little Snake Field Office would manage lands with wilderness characteristics to maintain those characteristics, including restricting oil and gas developments, among others, Blackstun said.

The plan, however, allows for oil and gas development on 90 percent of 1.9 million acres of federal minerals on both public and private lands, according to the release.

More than one million acres are currently being leased, with 15-percent of those leases currently being developed, according to the release.

The proposed plan is currently in a 30-day public protest period ending Sept. 13, and a 60-day consistency review by the governor’s office.

The BLM will issue a record of decision detailing the final decisions in the plan after the consistency review and the resolution of protests.

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