Marking the culmination of an 18-month effort, public land stakeholders in the North Fork Valley have formally submitted detailed recommendations for oil and gas leasing and management to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM has agreed to consider the community-supported plan as it revises its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the area.
"The federal government's decision to accept input developed locally is a huge step toward putting proper management and meaningful protections in place," said Ralph D'Alessandro, board member of the Western Slope Conservation Center. "We appreciate that the BLM is taking this community-based approach seriously — adopting it in the final plan would reflect solid reasoning and logic."
The North Fork Alternative Plan would restrict oil and gas leasing in the area to protect water supplies, agriculture and coal mining; to safeguard sensitive landscapes, wildlife habitat and riparian areas; and, to maintain the area's recreational and scenic qualities.
"The North Fork Alternative Plan offers reasonable recommendations to make sure that we keep the North Fork the vibrant, beautiful, creative and agricultural hub that it is," said Brent Helleckson, owner of Stone Cottage Cellars and representative of the West Elks Winery Association. "Vintners, restaurateurs, lodge owners, artists and artisans have spent more than a decade developing vineyards and tasting rooms, cafés, and hotels, marketing the area, putting down roots; the North Fork plan would go a long way to protect investments this community has already made."
The North Fork Alternative Plan was developed by a group of area stakeholders representing business, agriculture, resource and conservation interests in the valley. Since first presented to the public in March 2013 the North Fork Alternative Plan has gained widespread and broad support.
"The Town of Paonia became a formal supporter of the North Fork plan early on," said Amber Kleinman, a trustee on the Paonia Town Council. "It's a sensible and prudent, resource-based approach to protecting what is important to the Town and our residents — clean water, incredible scenery and a rural lifestyle. People don't move to Paonia to live in an industrial zone."
The North Fork Alternative Plan is supported by the Paonia Chamber of Commerce, North Fork area realtors, the Valley Organic Growers Association, the West Elk Winery Association, Western Colorado Congress, dozens of area farms and businesses, and more than 600 residents.
"The thing that we mostly agree on here is that the North Fork has tremendous appeal and qualities we all want to protect, and that our existing economy and the real estate market, which depend on a rural quality-of-life with clean air and water, would be harmed by ill-conceived oil and gas drilling, fracking, and development," said Bob Lario, broker/owner of RE/MAX Mountain West. "The North Fork plan is very protective of the valley's resources and character, and that in turn is good for attracting investment and new business and protecting property values."
The North Fork Alternative Plan is resource-based and built from the 'ground up.' It would put strong protections in place for the public uses and resources the community values most: including the existing coal mining and agricultural economies; a clean, dependable water supply; community, recreation, and public-use areas; scenic and sensitive lands; river corridors; and wildlife areas.
In late October the BLM announced that it would consider the North Fork Alternative Plan in the draft environmental impact statement that analyzes the different options the agency might adopt when it revises and updates its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Uncompahgre Field Office. Once finalized, the new RMP is likely to be in effect for 20 years or longer. The last RMP took effect in 1989.
"The North Fork Alternative Plan is a multiple use approach to managing and protecting important resources of the valley," said Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. "It is reasonable, based on sound stewardship, and complies with BLM obligations. We will continue to work with the BLM to make sure that the agency adopts the alternative plan into the final Resource Management Plan."
The North Fork's BLM lands are closely connected with the valley's human environment, towns, farms, water supplies, residences, and businesses. Although it affects only a fraction of the public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the region, the North Fork Alternative Plan focuses on an area with a concentration of resources, heavy community use, and high public value.
"We live here because we love the land and the place," said Mark Waltermire of Thistle Whistle Farm and president of the Valley Organic Growers Association."We need the clean water, we breathe the clean air. We want to raise our families in a farm field not an oil field. Most of us would as soon stay busy without having to fight oil and gas drilling, but we are grateful and hopeful about this chance to make our voices heard. We love this place and we will stand up for it."blog comments powered by Disqus