If you ever had any doubt regarding the extent of the oil and gas industry's influence over the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), I would encourage you to read BLM's draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) that was just released. This document outlines the BLM's 20-year plan for how the agency will manage nearly 676,000 acres of public lands within the Uncompahgre Field Office's jurisdiction.
According to BLM, this plan "...emphasizes balancing resources and resource use among competing human interests, land uses, and the conservation of natural and cultural resource values..." But here are the facts -- 93 percent of BLM land will be available for oil and gas leasing. By contrast, less than 3 percent will be protected for wilderness characteristics. How's that for balance?
Regarding public input, the RMP states, "Comments submitted by other government agencies, public organizations, state and tribal entities, and interested individuals were given careful consideration."
A cross-section of community volunteers from the North Fork Valley spent hundreds of hours developing a recommendation for managing oil and gas leasing in the area. This proposal, called The North Fork Alternative Plan, was presented to BLM in 2013. It very reasonably requests 106,000 acres of BLM land near homes, schools, churches, the community swimming pool, and the towns' water supply be off limits to oil and gas leasing to protect human health and the environment.
Instead, the agency's preferred management alternative allows virtually every single acre in the North Fork to be open to leasing. Astonishingly, BLM is even proposing to leave the springs at the base of Mt. Lamborn -- the source of the Town of Paonia's water supply -- open for future oil and gas leasing. So much for carefully considering public comments!
A few years ago residents of the North Fork wrote thousands of letters to BLM requesting withdrawal of a proposed 30,000-acre oil and gas lease sale on the floor of the valley. Under intense pressure from local citizens, BLM relented and cancelled the lease sale. Now, under this new plan, BLM proposes re-opening this area to leasing. This will force our community to fight this issue all over again.
Why should our community have to create a nonprofit organization (Citizens for a Healthy Community), raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, hire staff, write thousands of letters, and repeatedly send a delegation of citizens to Washington, D.C., to meet with our elected officials just to protect our land from the federal agency that is supposed to represent us?
BLM needs to quit giving lip-service to developing a "balanced" plan and giving "careful consideration" of public comment and go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that represents our community's interests, rather than the oil and gas industry's wish list.