BLM issues final decision for Little Snake management plan |

BLM issues final decision for Little Snake management plan

Craig Daily Press Staff Report

The Bureau of Land Management released Monday the Record of Decision for the Little Snake Resource Management Plan in Northwest Colorado.

The Record of Decision is the final step of an extensive, multi-year effort to develop a Resource Management Plan for the approximately 1.3 million acres of BLM-administered public lands and an additional 1.1 million acres of subsurface mineral estate administered by the Little Snake Field Office in Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco counties.

"There has been extensive public and cooperator involvement throughout this process, which began in 2004," Little Snake Field Manager Wendy Reynolds said. "We have used this involvement to develop a plan that balances protection of sensitive resources with resource use."

Major issues include energy and mineral development, transportation and travel management, and wildlife habitat, particularly for sage grouse, mule deer and elk.   

The Record of Decision carries forward the specific decisions from the Proposed RMP released in August 2010. These decisions include closing the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin to oil and gas leasing, and an approach to conserve key sagebrush habitat while allowing oil and gas development.

Many local residents have come out in support of the record of decision, including Craig teacher David Morris, who said the BLM took the public's opinion to heart.

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"With this plan, the BLM has finally listened to what many locals in Northwest Colorado have been saying for years — that the public lands we have up here are some of the most spectacular lands this country has left," Morris said in a BLM news release. "We believe these lands are worth protecting."

Moffat County rancher Wes McStay also voiced support for the document, citing the balance between protection and energy development.

"Nobody is saying that oil and gas development should not happen in Northwest Colorado," said McStay in the BLM release. "We only want it if it is kept out of our most sensitive landscapes such as the Vermillion Basin.

"This plan recognizes that we must balance energy development with the things that make this area such a great place to live — not only the beautiful vistas, but the clean air and water, and the outstanding and healthy wildlife resources."

However, the plan also has been criticized.

Some area conservationists believe the decision is unbalanced, puts certain species in danger and provides too much land for energy development.

"While we are pleased to see the Vermillion Basin protected, we are dismayed that the plan still opens around 90 percent of the area to oil and gas drilling, leaving 10 percent for the myriad other uses of these amazing lands," said Soren Jespersen, of The Wilderness Society, in a joint news release with the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Friends of the Yampa.

The BLM was supposed to take special consideration regarding the protection of sage grouse habitat. Audubon Colorado believes the BLM failed to honor its pledge to protect the iconic bird.

"Colorado's largest population of sage grouse will be threatened by oil and gas drilling under the plan, increasing the likelihood that the bird will need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act," said Ken Strom, director of Audubon Colorado, in a joint news release with Rocky Mountain Wild and the national Wildlife Federation. "BLM could build sound conservation measures into its management plans and thus make it unnecessary to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, but they have failed to do so in this case."

Sasha Nelson, northwest organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, app-

lauded the BLM's efforts to engage residents throughout the decision process, but said they fell short of meeting the public's management desires.

"The BLM did an excellent job of reaching out to the public and soliciting input on how these public lands should be managed," Nelson said in the joint news release with The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Yampa. "And in Colorado, the public resoundingly supports protecting the public lands that provide us with clean air, pure drinking water and wildlife habitats that make Colorado famous.

"Unfortunately, the BLM did not go far enough in answering Coloradoans desires to see these important lands protected."

Steamboat Springs attorney Reed Morris criticized the final plan for lacking a commonsense approach to land management.

"The public input process told the BLM what they should have already known — that residents of Northwest Colorado support a balanced and commonsense approach to public lands management," Morris said in the BLM release. "The fact that this plan still opens nearly 90 percent of the resource area to oil and gas companies questions how balanced this plan really is, but compared to the draft plan released under the Bush Administration, this new plan is a huge improvement."

Electronic copies of the Record of Decision are available at CD versions are available at the Little Snake Field Office, 455 Emerson St. in Craig, or by calling (970) 826-5000.

Following the Record of Decision, the Little Snake Field Office will be working on an implementation plan, including a route-by-route travel management designation process.

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