Sportsmen: BLM improves plan for North Park, but more protection is needed for fish, wildlife

"The National Wildlife Federation is happy to see a master leasing plan for North Park included as a component of the proposed resource management plan."

03-24-2014 // Judith Kohler

Jay Cook Park

A management proposal for Colorado’s North Park is an improvement from earlier plans for the important fish and wildlife region and includes some protection for waterways and habitats, but it falls short of the comprehensive, landscape-level approach envisioned by the Interior Department’s oil and gas leasing reforms, a national sportsmen’s coalition said.

The Bureau of Land Management released a proposed resource management plan Friday for the area in north-central Colorado that includes the headwaters of the North Platte River and is home to Gold Medal trout streams and a diverse array of wildlife, including the greater sage-grouse.

It is the first regional management plan in Colorado to include a master leasing plan, one of the key oil and gas leasing reforms announced by Interior in 2010. The public has 30 days to file protests.

"We appreciate the revisions BLM has made between the draft and final plan in regard to MLPs," said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development. "Unfortunately, the proposed MLP and other parts of the resource management plan did not fully meet our expectations for fish and wildlife in this critically important region for hunting and fishing."

"This is an improvement over the previous plan, and a 2500-foot buffer for the North Platte River will help to conserve this irreplaceable fishery while still allowing for oil and gas development," said Corey Fisher, energy team lead for Trout Unlimited. “However, a river is only as healthy as its watershed, and protections for tributary streams fall short of what neighboring BLM offices have implemented. We look forward to working with the BLM to ensure that upcoming master leasing plans in places like South Park protect world-class trout fisheries, from the top to the bottom of the watershed."     

"The National Wildlife Federation is happy to see a master leasing plan for North Park included as a component of the proposed resource management plan. Taking the time now to consider how to balance fish and wildlife resources with the potential for oil and gas development should pay benefits down the road for everyone who cares about Colorado’s great outdoors. That’s why we encourage BLM to find a better balance that would conserve North Park’s outstanding fish and wildlife habitat,” said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director.

"It makes sense to apply the master leasing plan tool to focus on North Park's renowned fisheries and wildlife. Recognizing that this is BLM's first time to apply the tool in Colorado, we are quite optimistic that the upcoming process and outcome will be better in South Park," said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition led by NWF, TU and TRCP, has worked with the Colorado Wildlife Federation and other partners to see that master leasing plans are adopted for North Park, Colorado’s South Park and other areas to avoid or minimize conflicts between energy development and the fish and wildlife resources important to hunters, anglers and the communities that rely on hunting, fishing and recreation.

Master leasing plans are intended as landscape-level assessments where important wildlife, environmental and mineral resources overlap. An MLP would provide a crucial step between the more general, overarching resource management plan and approvals for specific leases and drilling permits when there’s limited opportunity for analysis of the potential, cumulative impacts, SFRED said.

North Park is a high-elevation valley ringed by mountains. It’s home to moose, elk, deer, pronghorns, river otters, badgers, mountain lions, bears and the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, the second-largest producer of waterfowl in Colorado and major stopover for migratory birds. The area also lies atop the Niobrara oil formation, a major deposit that is driving a drilling boom on the state’s northeastern plains.