MOUNTAIN MAIL 9-17-19 Worries about BLM management plan

Sep 17, 2019

View from flight

John Sztukowski of Wild Connections and EcoFlight’s Bruce Gordon hosted a flyover Sept. 6 of Bureau of Land Management lands that may be affected by a new Resource Management Plan.

Participants included members of the media and area decision-makers.

The plan is in the public comment period until Friday, and Sztukowski wanted to draw attention to proposals in Alternative D, the BLM’s preferred alternative, before the comment period expired.

Sztukowski said of the four alternatives for the new plan, Alternative D does not do enough to protect the wild areas in question.

The flight took passengers east of Salida to the Texas Creek area and around Table Mountain while Sztukowski pointed out areas of potential concern under the Alternative D plan.

The area is largely wilderness, with a few sections that are privately owned. There are few structures and few roads in the area.

He pointed out some mining claims as well as sections that are currently protected by the BLM but may lose some of that protection if Alternative D is instituted as written.

Sztukowski said one of his concerns is the possibility of fluid mineral leases becoming available in the lands in question.

Alternative D makes land east of Salida available for oil and gas leases, and acreage that would be protected or managed would be decreased.

BLM fluid mineral leases include oil and gas, not helium, and while oil and gas basins exist in western Park, southeastern Saguache and southeastern Fremont counties, there is no geological evidence of such a basin in the Upper Arkansas Valley, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Another of Sztukowski’s concerns is that acreage that would be protected and/or managed in Alternative D would be decreased.

Alternative A would maintain the status quo.

Alternative B would retain four Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in their current size: Arkansas Canyonlands, 23,700 acres; Droney Gulch, 700 acres; Grape Creek, 16,600 acres; and Ruby Mountain/Railroad Gulch, 1,800 acres. It would expand three existing ACECs: Cucharas Canyon, 6,100 acres; Garden Park, 3,100 acres; and Top of the World, 8,700 acres; and combine two existing ACECs into a single area: South Pikes Peak, 40,400 acres.

Alternative C would retain three current ACECs in their current size: Cucharas Canyon, 1,400 acres; Garden Park, 2,700 acres; and Top of the World (Mosquito Pass existing), 4,200 acres.

It would reduce three existing ACECs: Arkansas Canyonlands, 18,700 acres; Grape Creek, 2,300 acres; and Phantom Canyon, 5,500 acres. It would eliminate three ACECs: Beaver Creek, 12,100 acres; Droney Gulch, 700 acres; and Ruby Mountain/Railroad Gulch, 1,800 acres.

Alternative D would retain one ACEC in its current size: Droney Gulch, 700 acres; propose one new ACEC: Castle Gardens, 300 acres; and expand three existing ACECs: Cucharas Canyon, 6,100 acres; Garden Park, 3,100 acres; and Top of the World, 8,700 acres.

It would reduce three existing ACECs: Arkansas Canyonlands, 19,600 acres; Grape Creek, 2,300 acres; and Phantom Canyon, 5,500 acres; and eliminate two existing ACECs: Beaver Creek, 12,100 acres, and portions of the Browns Canyon ACEC outside the national monument (Ruby Mountain/Railroad Gulch), 1,800 acres.

Attempts to obtain information on specific questions about oil and gas leases and protected lands in the Upper Arkansas Valley went unanswered by BLM officials.

A copy of the draft Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement is available at go.usa.gov/​xQcZT. Click the documents and reports link on the left side of the screen to find the electronic version.

Comments related to the Draft Eastern Colorado RMP/EIS may be submitted by the following methods:

Electronic comments must be submitted via the ePlanning website at go.usa.gov/​xQcZT.

Hard-copy comments may be submitted via mail or hand delivered to the Royal Gorge Field Office, 3028 E. Main St., Cañon City, CO 81212.

SIDEBAR 1:

The Bureau of Land Management draft Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office are open for public comment until Sept. 20.

The U.S. Department of the Interior notes the planning area of about 35 million acres of land includes 666,127 acres of BLM-administered surface lands, 6,474,368 subsurface acres and 3,311,900 acres of BLM mineral estate managed by the Royal Gorge Field Office.

The planning area includes 37 counties in eastern Colorado from just west of the Front Range to the eastern border of the state and from the Wyoming/Nebraska border in the north to the New Mexico/Oklahoma border in the south.

The decision area includes all the public land and federal mineral estate administered by the BLM within the field office boundaries, except for within Browns Canyon National Monument, which the BLM will manage under a separate resource management plan.

SIDEBAR 2

Four alternatives are outlined in the BLM draft, including:

• Alternative A – the no-action alternative: This option would continue current management on BLM-administered surface land and federal mineral estate in the planning area. It divides the administration area into Northeast Resource Area and Royal Gorge Resource Area.

• Alternative B – emphasis on natural processes: This alternative emphasizes management of natural ecosystem function according to ecoregional assessments or other measurements.

Management would focus on proactive conservation and restoration of ecoregion components to meet desired future conditions as well as the Colorado Public Land Health Standards (BLM 1997). Resource uses (e.g., oil and gas, recreation, rights-of-way, livestock grazing) would be managed adaptively as required to make long-term progress toward meeting desired future conditions and improving resource resiliency.

It categorizes administration areas into three ecoregions: Southwestern Tablelands, Great Plains and Southern Rockies.

Alternative C – emphasis on responding to demand for resource use: In this alternative, public demand for use will be the basis for resource management, and management will rely mostly on existing laws and regulations to protect the long-term sustainability of resources. Adaptive management will be used as a tool to respond to demand.

The BLM will keep resources open for greater commercial use as demand dictates. The BLM will maximize accessibility to resource use to facilitate development for commercial and public use for things such as mineral extraction, grazing, rights-of-way, renewable energy projects and recreation.

It recognizes the administrative region as a single region.

Alternative D – the human ecoregion: This has been identified as the BLM’s preferred alternative. It adaptively manages resources to allow for local community use and interest based on local communities’ desires and based on the BLM’s interactions with the public, cooperators and feedback during preplanning, scoping and other forums.

It emphasizes managing for the ways in which local governments, people and communities want to interact with public lands and resources.

It maximizes the BLM’s multiple-use mandate and increases access to public lands by focusing on where resource potential exists and leveraging the access to those resources in a way that reflects local values.

Alternative D carves the area into four sections: Eastern Plains, Rural Foothills, Front Range and Upper Arkansas Valley. The last section has the most land administered by the Royal Gorge Field Office.

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