South Park is a high-elevation basin ringed by mountains in central Colorado and is managed by the BLM’s Royal Gorge field office. The 1,000 square-mile basin contains over 200 miles of streams and riparian habitat and the headwaters of the South Platte River. It is a world-class fishing and hunting area less than a two-hour drive from the major metro area of Denver. A 2008 state-commissioned study found that wildlife-based recreation contributed more than $17.8 million yearly to the local Park County economy.
In 2011, the Colorado Wildlife Federation recommended that the BLM prepare a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area, and in 2012 Park County asked the BLM to make “long term protection of South Park a priority before major energy development changes the face of this special part of the West.” The BLM announced in January 2014 that it would move forward with a MLP process for South Park.
Master Leasing Plans were part of the oil and gas leasing reforms in 2010. The idea behind a MLP is “plan first, lease later”, and to research and discuss impacts in areas where the most potential conflicts exist between development, recreation and conservation, before any drilling starts. The MLP process gets stakeholders involved before leases are granted; sensitive areas and recreation values can be protected while developers can feel more certain about the future of their projects.
The BLM had originally proposed oil and gas leases in the area, but pulled them after Park County officials, sportsmen’s groups, wildlife groups and concerned citizens protested, saying the leases should be put on hold until a MLP and new management plan are created.
EcoFlight will continue to provide the aerial perspective of the South Park region to stakeholders, wildlife and sportsmen groups as they engage in the MLP process to create a plan that protects the special characteristics of the area while allowing for responsible drilling for energy resources.
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