Lease exchange proposal is a terrible idea

By Roxanne Yates

Dear Editor:

Representative Tipton has released a "discussion draft" of a proposed lease exchange bill for contested leases in the Thompson Divide with brand new leases of approximately 30,000 acres in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. It is a giveaway to two oil companies and a terrible proposal for the North Fork Valley where most of the new leases would occur.

These leases would not be subject to any environmental review prior to being issued nor would they include any long-term environmental protections for the Hubbard and Mule Park area north of Paonia and other lands in the North Fork Valley or within the Thompson Divide. The Delta County lands are revered for quality of life attributes, year-round recreation, wildlife habitat, native trout streams and headwaters for drinking and irrigation waters in the North Fork watershed. Simply stated, Hubbard and Mule Park are unique and beautiful mountain areas deserving of long-term protection and not the ravages of fracking and oil and gas extraction. For many of us, it is also home.

Because the bill would waive a variety of public land and environmental laws, there would be no public disclosure or analysis by the BLM of the impacts for land, water and communities in the North Fork area. Additionally, there would be no analysis regarding increased traffic, road- building, sensitive habitat, property values or any other of the valid concerns previously voiced by our communities. Without protections the public is left with degraded lands.

The proposed lease exchange would also circumvent the land exchange procedures set forth in the Federal Land Policy and Management act, procedures intended to ensure that the public gets a fair deal from such an exchange. Without due process, the lease exchange is the first step of privatizing public lands for the benefit of a large political donor.

Representative Tipton's lease exchange proposal was developed with no public input despite clear and strong community interest and years of discussions involving numerous stakeholders regarding these very public lands and issues.

Representative Tipton, let's have a relevant dialogue with all stakeholders please, or better yet, be forward thinking and propose legislation promoting the diversification of local economies and training for displaced workers instead of favoring an industry which is being replaced with more sustainable energy sources. Then we can provide long-term protection for these revered and very special high mountain areas. That's the legacy we could be thinking about for our children and grandchildren.

Roxanne Yates