Plan Prioritizes Oil and Gas Drilling over Wildlands Protection
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a Final Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Record of Decision for the Little Snake region that shows a vast improvement from Bush administration draft plans but continues to prioritize oil and gas development over all other uses. The clean air, outstanding wildlife habitat and free-flowing rivers in northwest Colorado will continue to face threats from oil and gas drilling in the final management plan released Oct. 17.
“While we are pleased to see Vermillion Basin protected, we are dismayed that the plan still opens around 90 percent of the resource 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.
According to the plan, around 90 percent of land and minerals managed by the Little Snake Field Office will continue to be available for oil and gas drilling. In addition, less than 8 percent of the field office will be closed to off-road vehicle use. With some of North America’s largest elk and mule deer herds, Colorado’s largest populations of the imperiled greater sage-grouse, nearly 300,000 acres of proposed wilderness, and the iconic Yampa River, the Little Snake Resource Area is an American treasure that will continue to face wildlife threats from increased drilling in the region.
“The draft plan—put out under the Bush administration—completely ignored the desires of the citizens of northwest Colorado and Americans in general to have a public land management that balanced energy development with the protection of our clean air, clean water and wildlife habitats,” said Soren Jespersen, northwest Colorado wildlands coordinator with The Wilderness Society in Craig, Colo. “The last administration set the bar so low, that although this final plan is a vast improvement, it still does not do enough to protect the amazingly unique natural resources of northwest Colorado.”
This RMP is one of the first in the country to be finalized under the Obama administration and does strive to protect many of the unique wilderness-quality lands in the area such as Vermillion Basin, Cold Springs Mountain and Diamond Breaks. The plan also found that 22 miles of the Yampa River are suitable for inclusion in the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers system, good news to the thousands of visitors that come to the region every year to float or fish on this iconic western river.
“The Yampa River provides world-famous recreational opportunities in Dinosaur National Monument and Cross Mountain and provides critical habitat for endangered Colorado River fish species,” said Ken Brenner, board president at Friends of the Yampa in Steamboat Springs. “We need to see the river recommended to Congress for permanent protection. Merely finding the river suitable—without actively recommending it to Congress—is not enough to protect the largest free-flowing river in the Colorado River system from its immediate threats, although it is an important recognition of the Yampa’s outstanding values.”
The BLM made an unprecedented effort to engage the public in this process, hear their desires and concerns, and craft a plan that reflected them. However, the final decision makes it clear that oil and gas development is unfortunately still the priority.
”The BLM did an excellent job of reaching out to the public and soliciting input on how these public lands should be managed,” said Sasha Nelson of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, also in Craig, Colo. “And in Colorado the public resoundingly supports protecting the public lands that provide us with the 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.”
Recreation is also poised to be hurt by the BLM’s plan, says Scott Braden of the Colorado Mountain Club. “Recreation—including hunting and fishing—is an important economic driver in Colorado and protected public lands and rivers are a pillar of this recreation. Each year these lands attract thousands of visitors who come to the region to hike and camp, raft and kayak, and who often stick around to start businesses and families. This plan does not do enough to protect these attractions.”
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The Wilderness Society is the leading public-lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org
Colorado Environmental Coalition is Colorado’s voice for conservation since 1965. www.ourcolorado.org
Friends of the Yampa strives to protect and enhance the environmental and recreational integrity of the Yampa River, its basin, and its tributaries through stewardship, advocacy, partnerships and education. www.friendsoftheyampa.com