Since last summer, I have been working with a group of stakeholders representing business, ranching, agriculture, wineries, the Western Slope Conservation Center and Citizens for a Healthy Community to develop a proposal to protect the North Fork Valley's important resources from the risks of oil and gas development on public lands. The result of that work is the North Fork Alternative Plan, which will be submitted to the local Bureau of Land Management office for consideration as it works to update its decades-old land-use plan for the region.
The purpose of the North Fork Alternative Plan is to establish a management framework for oil and gas leasing in the North Fork and Smith Fork watersheds. This framework would protect the many important resources in the North Fork from the known risks and threats oil and gas development would bring to our valley, including water and air contamination and marring the North Fork's scenic landscape.
Twice now, our community has successfully scuttled ill-advised attempts by the BLM to lease thousands of acres of public lands across the North Fork for oil and gas drilling. The North Fork Alternative Plan, in a sense, would limit what leasing BLM could propose in the future, by closing a limited amount of public lands to leasing and requiring other protective management stipulations for important areas.
The North Fork Alternative Plan would close critically important or sensitive places to oil and gas leasing, including BLM lands that surround our towns and schools, and those lands that contain our water supplies, water bodies, coal mining areas, and prominent scenic areas, including the face of the West Elk Mountains and Mt. Jumbo.
The North Fork Alternative Plan would also require no surface occupancy stipulations (which prevent ground disturbing activities) and other proposed management tools for other important resources, including the valley's prime and unique farmlands, farms, orchards, ranches, vineyards, scenic viewsheds including the West Elks Scenic Byway, and the Jumbo Mountain recreation area.
This plan seeks to gain protection of what makes the North Fork Valley such an attractive place for so many of us to call our home.
The BLM needs to recognize the values and resources that make the North Fork Valley a leading and growing agritourism destination. We need protective management from the BLM that favors our health and livelihoods over the benefit of the energy industry.
The North Fork Alternative Plan is already supported by the Valley Organic Growers Association, the West Elks American Viticultural Association, Citizens for a Healthy Community, and the Western Slope Conservation Center, representing hundreds if not thousands of valley residents.
We need to come together again as a community to demand smart, resource-based, and protective management from our government. I hope you will consider adding your name in support of the North Fork Alternative Plan. For more information visit www.citizens