by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Representatives of Wilderness Workshop and Trout Unlimited said Thursday they’re hopeful the Bureau of Land Management will tweak its recent decision about leases for gas and oil drilling between Carbondale and Battlement Mesa to include more restrictions on industry.
Wilderness Workshop and EcoFlight hosted a flight over the area for journalists after the BLM last month moved to cancel 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area outside Carbondale. The purpose was to show how Thompson Divide flows into several roadless areas to the west, including Thompson Creek, Baldy Mountain and East Willow, and the industry’s inactivity on leased well pads.
While the BLM, in its final preferred alternative for the environmental impact statement (EIS) governing those areas, canceled the 25 Thompson Divide leases, the agency rolled back protections in the areas to the west, where there are 27 gas and oil leases, that had been included in the preliminary EIS, said Will Roush, conservation director of Wilderness Workshop.
“Those leases have the same types of value in terms of roadless and wildlife habitat as a lot of spots in the Thompson Divide,” he said. “In our perspective, they’re just as deserving of protection.”
Tyler Baskfield, Colorado sportsmen coordinator for Trout Unlimited, agreed, saying that native populations of cutthroat trout and big-game habitat enjoyed by hunters would be aided by added protection. He cited as beneficial prohibitions on industry practices like surface occupancy in roadless areas, meaning extraction firms can access the subterranean natural gas but cannot impact the topsoil; and controlled surface use, a timing stipulation so industry doesn’t impact things like elk-calving season.
The EIS was entered into the federal register on Aug. 5, and the BLM has a minimum of 30 days to issue its final ruling, called a record of decision.
The time has passed for Wilderness Workshop and other groups to appeal the BLM’s decision.