Conservation groups hail BLM plan for South Park

Sportsmen’s,wildlife groups welcome assurance that master leasing plan will be prepared for Colorado hunting,fishing haven

02-11-2014 // Judith Kohler

Colorado River at Diamond CreekThe South Park community and conservation groups are encouraged that after more than two years of work, the Bureau of Land Management says it will prepare a detailed oil and gas leasing plan for the area renowned for its fish, wildlife and water.

BLM officials said during a recent Park County commissioners’ meeting that a master leasing plan for South Park is "a go." Tom Heinlein, the BLM’s Front Range district manager, said South Park is one of the master leasing plans "we will undertake."

Along with the commissioners and town councils in Park County, sportsmen’s and wildlife groups formally requested a master leasing plan for South Park. The high-elevation basin, ringed by mountains, is the headwaters of the South Platte River, a source of drinking water for Denver, Aurora and other Front Range cities and is a premier hunting and fishing area.  missioners’ meeting that a master leasing plan for South Park is "a go." Tom Heinlein, the BLM’s Front Range district manager, said South Park is one of the master leasing plans "we will undertake."

Master leasing plans, or MLPs, were among the oil and gas leasing reforms the Interior Department unveiled in 2010. They are intended as a landscape-level review of an area’s resources and a critical step between the more general resource management plan and analyses of individual oil and gas sites.

Park County and conservation groups have asked the BLM to delay leasing in South Park until an MLP is completed. The BLM withdrew proposed leases from an auction last year after protests were filed.

Heinlein and Keith Berger, the BLM’s Royal Gorge field manager, said MLPs are still "a relatively new concept," adding they aren’t aware of one that has been completed. The South Park plan will be part of an update of the larger resource management document. Public hearings on the update are expected to start in late summer or early fall.

"A master leasing plan is a great mechanism for protecting the resources of Park County. The fact that we’re looking at the cumulative effects of development is a new way of looking at the leasing of minerals,'" County Commissioner Mark Dowaliby said.

"Park County has a unique opportunity to develop a master leasing plan for South Park with the BLM that will become a model for balancing world-class fish and wildlife resources and recreation with future energy development, while preserving the unique watershed that supplies more than 40 percent of drinking water to the Denver metro area,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, which submitted an application for a South Park master leasing in 2011.

"Along with the South Park MLP, the Pike-San Isabel National Forest is undertaking an analysis of where and how they will consider future oil and gas leasing on national forest lands,” said Bob Meulengracht, Colorado energy coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “This presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a look at the South Platte drainage as a whole and come up with a comprehensive plan – from the valley to the peaks – to protect this iconic trout fishery."

Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, lead partners in Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, see MLPs as crucial to safeguarding fish, wildlife, key habitat and waterways on public lands.

"Master leasing plans provide a needed opportunity to prepare detailed, landscape-level land use plans for areas with significant conservation values as well as oil and gas reserves. South Park’s high plateau is the source of drinking water for Denver and many other Front Range communities," said Kate Zimmerman, NWF’s public lands policy director. "South Park also holds valuable fish and wildlife habitat and provides unique opportunities for outdoor recreation. It is an ideal candidate for the careful `look before you lease’ approach provided by an MLP."

"We are pleased the Colorado BLM is committed to preparing a master lease plan for the South Park area, and we commend the Royal Gorge Field Office for embracing the effort," said Ed Arnett, director of the TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development. "In consideration of the world-class hunting and fishing opportunities that abound in the area, sportsmen will be a key stakeholder in the public scoping and review process."

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