Apparently not. Colorado Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Office has just released their “final” (until the next one), San Juan Resource Management Plan (RMP) which continues to allow for oil and gas development in western La Plata County, near the boundary of Mesa Verde National Park and without proper safeguards to protect air quality within the park. Outgoing Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins twice proposed oil and gas leasing in the area despite vigorous criticism from local country commissioners, landowners, farmers and ranchers, business owners, and conservationists as well as concerns from National Park Service officials.
Apparently Colorado BLM’s strategy is to wait a few months before issuing the unpopular oil and gas proposals again…even if nothing changed on the ground.
It’s not all bad of course. BLM in New Mexico recently scaled back their oil and gas proposals around Chaco Canyon. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a positive step.
The BLM has made some progress, but there’s more work to be done. Here is what my colleague, Tom Pittenger, at Park Rangers for Our Lands in Dolores said in response:
“While we appreciate some of the changes Colorado BLM has made for leasing near Mesa Verde National Park, the BLM has still failed to put forward a plan that protects the park, one of America’s greatest national treasures. Today’s plan fails to put our national parks and conservation on equal ground with oil and gas drilling.”
Tom is a former park ranger with experience on air quality issues at Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks.
Other local reaction to the plan was resoundingly unimpressed and mixed.
“It’s good to see that the BLM has made some progress, and I look forward to fully reviewing the revised plan,” said La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt. “Lately, Colorado BLM has given the interest of landowners and sportsmen short shrift when it proposed oil and gas development in western La Plata County. We can do better.”
This past June, the La Plata County Commissioners wrote a letter to Colorado BLM requesting that a Master Leasing Plan be issued for the area to balance conservation and oil and gas industry interests. The final RMP failed to incorporate a Master Leasing Plan as a way to avoid problems in high conflict areas.
Similarly, Bruce Baizel, energy program director of Earthworks in Durango thought the plan didn’t do enough to protect the community and open lands. “Colorado BLM made some improvements, but there’s work left to be done. Colorado BLM should do the right thing and put forward a plan that protects landowners and our community. This was a missed opportunity by Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins to use all the tools at her disposal and come up with a more balanced approach.”
The final San Juan Resource RMP can be found online on the Tres Rios Field Office website.
The problem is that although the BLM state offices in Colorado and New Mexico have shown flexibility in their proposed oil and gas leases, they seem unwilling to use the innovative tools of the oil and gas leasing reforms, such as Master Leasing Plans, which their own agency has told them to do.
A Master Leasing Plan was developed specifically to analyze areas involving greater risks to a multitude of resource concerns, recreation values, and local economies. It wasn’t like the agency was being asked to send a wild burro into earth orbit. The agency was tasked with doing a better job of analyzing the risks in sensitive landscapes, particularly those near the boundaries of national parks, and other extremely valuable areas to wildlife populations, and local economies.
BLM offices have the expertise and professional qualifications to do this level of planning. Their own resource management plans are often more comprehensive and detailed than a master leasing plan might be. So why the big problem with doing a better job of planning particularly when extremely important values in some of our nation’s most important public lands, like Mesa Verde could be compromised? Once again, it appears that while they have shown a willingness to scale back on individual oil and gas lease sales, Colorado BLM really hasn’t embraced the idea of the modest landscape level planning required to safeguard our nation’s heritage. I had hoped for more.
I guess we’re still on a long road to equality between oil and gas and conservation on our public lands.
– Ellis Richard, Park Rangers for Our Lands