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Sportsmen’s, wildlife groups urge BLM to not 'short-circuit' North Park planning process

   Pronghorn in North Park. Source: Flickr, NWFblogs

By Judith Kohler | 1.9.14 
Sportsmen’s and wildlife groups say proposed oil and gas leases in Colorado’s North Park should be withdrawn until federal land managers update a nearly 30-year-old management plan for the area and better address the potential impacts on sage-grouse habitat, fisheries and water quality and quantity.

The Bureau of Land Management is in the middle of revising the resource management plan and should wait until it’s completed and the agency has more thoroughly assessed current conditions and the risks, according to the Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Colorado Trout Unlimited.

 The groups noted that the leases, covering about 2,567 acres in north-central Colorado, overlap with habitat for the greater sage-grouse, under consideration for a spot on the endangered species list. Colorado River cutthroat trout, a state species of special concern, is also found in the area, the groups wrote in comments on the BLM’s preliminary environmental assessment.

A final environmental assessment is pending on the leases proposed for a June sale.

“If BLM leases these parcels at the June 2014 auction, the agency will be leasing lands without the best information or thorough review of the leases’ compatibility with decisions that will emerge in the new (resource management plan,” NWF and CWF wrote in their comments.

North Park. Source: Flickr, Dan Leithauser

Trout Unlimited and Colorado Trout Unlimited said approving the leases before the plan is completed would “short-circuit the planning process.”  The existing resource management plan doesn’t address substantial new information about oil and gas impacts on water, air quality, climate change, fish and wildlife, they said.

Other BLM field offices in Colorado and Montana deferred leases until new management plans were completed, TU and CTU pointed out. Protections for cutthroat trout and riparian areas are inadequate under the existing plan and should be strengthened, the groups said, noting that the neighboring Little Snake BLM field office has adopted quarter-mile buffers between oil and gas operations and all perennial waterways.

The four groups have urged the BLM to approve a master leasing plan in North Park. The planning tool is one of the oil and gas leasing reforms unveiled by the Interior Department in 2010 and is intended as a landscape-level assessment of areas where minerals and important fish and wildlife resources overlap. North Park is the headwaters of the North Platte River and is home to gold-medal trout waters, pronghorns, mule deer, bears, mountain lions, sage-grouse, elk, moose, badgers, river otters and the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.