Wildlife Groups Urge BLM To Yank Leases

NWF and the Colorado Wildlife Federation oppose oil and gas lease sales without updated safeguards for fish and wildlife habitat

03-12-2013 // Judith Kohler
Colorado River at Diamond Creek

Wildlife groups are urging the Colorado Bureau of Land Management to withdraw oil and gas leases from an upcoming sale so it can update its nearly 30-year-old management plan for the area and include safeguards for important fish and wildlife habitat.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation have filed a protest of three parcels totaling about 2,200 acres in North Park. The BLM’s Kremmling office plans to offer the leases in a May 9 sale.

Conservation groups have asked the BLM to approve master leasing plans in North Park and South Park before issuing new leases. Master leasing plans are intended to use upfront, comprehensive planning to minimize conflict and habitat loss in areas where exceptional wildlife and energy resources overlap.

The wildlife groups noted that the BLM resource management plan covering North Park, as elsewhere in Colorado, is several years old and is being rewritten.

"Not only is the BLM offering leases in habitat important to sage-grouse, mule deer and other wildlife, but it’s doing so based on a plan that’s nearly three decades old,’’ National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul said. "The BLM needs to finish updating the document instead of going ahead with piecemeal decisions now that will undermine its ability to take a more informed, comprehensive look later."

Colorado BLM officials have indicated they might consider a master leasing plan in North Park, Saul added.

North Park is the headwaters of the North Platte River, which flows north into Wyoming and feeds gold-medal and blue-ribbon fisheries in both states. The area also encompasses key habitat for greater sage-grouse, mule deer and elk and is home to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, a major nesting spot for waterfowl and habitat for moose and river otters.

"Hunters, anglers and many others have asked the Colorado BLM to approve master leasing plans in North Park and South Park because of the vital resources that must be balanced in both areas," said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. "We're still waiting for BLM State Director Helen Hankins to show she's serious about honoring these requests – and meanwhile, leases are still being offered.''

Deferring the leases will help ensure that "any future development that occurs is the result of a thoughtful, collaborative plan that balances energy development with other multiples uses – including hunting and its significant economic contribution – and the needs of the community," the two groups wrote in their protest.

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