The area proposed for a master leasing plan includes important winter range for mule deer. Image: iStock
DOLORES, Colo. -- After hearing from hunters, anglers, area residents and outdoor enthusiasts, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management has decided to pursue development of a master leasing plan for new oil and gas development on public lands in southwest Colorado.
The area is managed by BLM’s Tres Rios field office and includes 503,600 acres of public land that encompasses important wildlife habitat and is popular with outdoor recreationists. The master leasing plan, or MLP, has been proposed in Montezuma and La Plata counties and includes the gateway area to Mesa Verde National Park and archeological sites.
“The Tres Rios area has valuable wildlife habitat that includes important migratory routes, winter range as well as calving and lambing areas. It deserves the additional management protections for these areas that an MLP can provide,” said Bill Dvorak, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands organizer in Colorado.
The Durango Herald reported the Colorado state BLM office will submit a proposal for an MLP to the Washington, D.C., office. BLM officials said the decision was based on public support for the plan.
An MLP, among the Interior Department’s 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms, assesses the potential impacts of oil and gas drilling on natural resources across a landscape rather than lease by lease. The goal is to address potential conflicts upfront, consider cumulative impacts and provide safeguards for important fish and wildlife, water and other resources.
During a recent meeting of the BLM’s Southwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council, O’Neill said an MLP in the Tres Rios area would allow planners and the public to focus on critical winter range for deer and elk and wildlife migration corridors in the gateway area to Mesa Verde National Park. Phased leasing and development, limiting the density of well pads and consolidating infrastructure, such as roads and pipelines, are some of the safeguards that can be explored as part of the process, she added.
Local communities, sportsmen’s and outdoor groups and Colorado Parks and Wildlife voiced concern that a resource management plan approved in 2015 didn’t sufficiently address the potential effects of oil and gas development on wildlife and other uses of public lands. The BLM’s advisory council split on whether to recommend that the BLM prepare an MLP.
The BLM is using MLPs in other areas, including Colorado's South Park and Moab, Utah.
O’Neill said she’s confident the BLM and stakeholders can build on work already done to come up with balanced safeguards in southwest Colorado.
“One of the reasons I’m confident is that we’ve been working very closely with the BLM, Park County, water providers, cultural interests, oil and gas interests and others in South Park and it’s working, this process is working and it’s working well,” O'Neill said.