DENVER, CO — This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will release a draft plan to guide future energy development in eastern Colorado, including South Park basin. The plan is the result of many years of work by local community members, water providers, conservation groups and others who worked with the federal government to ensure that water and wildlife would be protected around responsible oil and gas drilling.
The draft plan endorses many of the recommendations made through that collaborative process. It recognizes the need to protect cutthroat trout and other aquatic species through reasonable setbacks and non-surface occupancy leasing, so that habitats are not disturbed near the South Platte River and gold medal streams that feed into it. The plan recognizes the need to protect drinking supplies for Denver and Aurora by requiring reasonable setbacks and prohibiting surface occupancy drilling five miles upstream of public water supplies. Surface disturbances from oil and gas drilling would also be prohibited in the area of Reinecker Ridge, which is a vital, undisturbed big game habitat.
Unfortunately, the draft plan did not take the recommendation from community leaders to phase in oil and gas development at a slower rate. The public had recommended that a maximum of 40 acres— or 5 percent of acreage — may be disturbed at one time. The draft plan would allow 80 acres at a time.
“The National Wildlife Federation is pleased the federal government recognized the concerns of hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts – along with the concerns related to drinking water – and placed the appropriate sideboards on any future oil and gas leasing in the South Park area,” said Aaron Kindle, program manager for western sportsmen at the National Wildlife Federation. “We have worked long and hard with anyone and everyone who cares about this magnificent area to get this right. While we wish the BLM would have gone a little further to more fully protect, restore and improve elk habitat, we are overall happy with the direction the plan is headed and are looking forward to working with the BLM to address our remaining concerns so we can protect this incredible national treasure.”
“Colorado Wildlife Federation has worked for nearly a decade in iconic South Park to safeguard wildlife habitats and waters managed by the federal government. We are gratified that the collaborative effort among Park County and the diverse stakeholders over these many years has largely been recognized in this draft plan,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “BLM’s plan illustrates how the local community and an array of interests can work effectively with the federal government to ensure impacts to vital wildlife habitats and waters will be minimized should future oil and gas development occur.”
In addition to providing drinking water for Denver and Aurora, the South Park basin is one of Colorado’s most important areas for outdoor recreation. It’s an economic powerhouse that brings in more than $17 million in economic benefits every year. The region is the home to many miles of gold medal trout streams, several state parks and state wildlife areas. It provides habitat for elk, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and many other species.
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