On June 27, the Board of County Commissioners began the process of developing comments on the BLM's Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Uncompahgre Planning Area.
The Draft RMP, once finalized, will define land use for 675,800 surface acres of local BLM managed public lands for at least the next 20 years. Public comment on the draft is being taken until Sept. 1.
The county commissioners discussed parts of the 2,000-page plan with the county's local government designee for oil and gas. The discussion touched on a sub-alternative of the Draft RMP dealing with minerals exploration and development in the drainages of the North Fork of the Gunnison and Smith Fork rivers. Alternative B1 was written and submitted to BLM by private interests in the North Fork Valley that are opposed to energy exploration and development. It was submitted to the BLM from outside the agency's internal process and included by BLM in its Draft RMP.
The North Fork Alternative proposes to close 75 percent of the 139,540-acre North Fork area to leasing for oil and gas exploration. By contrast, the BLM's own preferred alternative would close only 2.2 percent of acres in the same area.
The county commissioners have expressed ongoing unhappiness with BLM's treatment of the county's "cooperating agency" status in consultations on land use decisions. As elected representatives, commissioners believe their elective role is being eclipsed by special considerations the BLM is giving to "non-government organizations."
Conversely, the BLM with its Draft RMP has recommended against a group of some 40 to 60 local stakeholders including river users, ranchers, water rights holders, property owners, elected officials, farmers and others. Several members of that local stakeholder group were at the Delta unveiling of the Draft RMP last week during an open house at the Delta Center. They recalled how six years ago the group voted unanimously (except for a sole representative of an environmental coalition) against designating any local streams as "wild and scenic." The BLM's Draft RMP now proposes to designate 16 local stream segments in the Uncompahgre Planning Area as suitable for wild and/or scenic designation, including some in the Delta County watershed.
The BLM's Draft RMP deals only partially with another of the Delta County Commissioners' issues: the Camel Back and Adobe Badlands wilderness study areas (WSA). Last year, the commissioners wrote to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton saying the WSA designation for both areas 36 years ago "was never intended to be permanent," adding that if the area is not suitable as wilderness, then it should revert back to [standard] public lands management. They asked Tipton for legislation to withdraw the areas from WSA status.
Adobe Badlands has sat idle with its WSA use restrictions for 36 years. In 2011, the 10,425-acre area added cost and political controversy to a power line upgrade project north of Delta. The hands-off status provided by Adobe Badlands' WSA designation, which dictated that the power line encroach on Blake Field airspace, created a flight safety hazard and resulted in Federal Aviation Administration involvement. The
commissioners at that time asked Tipton for removal of WSA status from the Adobe Badlands.
In its recently released Draft RMP, the BLM has responded to the commissioners' request by proposing to designate part of the much studied and long idled Adobe Badlands not as wilderness, but rather as an "area of critical environmental concern." A "Camel Back adjacent" area of 6,950 acres is proposed for a "lands with wilderness characteristics" designation. Tipton has separately introduced a bill to release a different local area from WSA designation: the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area.
The county commissioners are also unhappy with the BLM's proposed Planning Rule 2.0 which, if adopted, would apply to future NEPA public process decisions under the final RMP document. Commissioners say the proposed Planning Rule 2.0 would further marginalize the voice of local elected officials and their constituents in public land use decision making. Commissioners also see Planning Rule 2.0 as watering down the role of the multiple use doctrine on public lands. Multiple use has been the county's cornerstone position regarding public lands issues since multiple use was established as federal policy.
The massive Draft RMP document is three volumes, each the size of a metro area telephone directory. It is far more than any individual could hope to comprehend, digest and master.
Below are a few of the alternatives highlighted by BLM staff during the public unveiling at the Delta Center last week. There are four alternatives in the plan for each category of land designation/use (five alternatives in the case of two of the categories) The abstract below compares current uses with the BLM's own preferred alternative, Alternative D.
• Lands with wilderness characteristics: currently there are none. The BLM's preferred alternative names three, and another alternative names seven including areas adjacent to both Adobe Badlands and Camel Back wilderness study areas.
• Areas of critical environmental concern: these would increase from five and 30,000 acres o eight and 51,320 acres under the preferred alternative.
• Special recreation management areas: these would increase from two on 49,320 acres to seven comprising 124,400 in the preferred alternative. The preferred alternative would also create four "extensive recreation management areas" on 73,310 acres.
•Target shooting: areas closed to target shooting would increase from 0.1 percent (10 acres) to 7.3 percent (49,370 acres) of the area.
•Trails and travel management: open to cross country travel would decline from 8,560 acres currently to zero acres under Alternative D.
• Livestock grazing: areas open would decline from 658,540 to 611,560. Areas closed to livestock grazing would increase from 17,260 to 64,240.
•Coal leasing: as the coal industry enters an historic decline based on market conditions and federal policy, areas acceptable for coal leasing would increase from 145,270 to 374,450.
• Oil and gas resources: areas open to leasing would remain almost constant in the preferred alternative at 865,970 acres or 94.5 percent of area compared with 95.2 percent currently.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.