Advocating for extractive industries at the expense of local communities or living, sustainable ecosystems, a tone-deaf BLM continues its long, outcome-proven tradition of ignoring the concerns of citizens. Releasing its long-awaited Uncompahgre RMP, a document laying out a blueprint for decades of activity in our resource area, the agency has muted citizens' issues regarding oil and gas development on thousands of acres in and around our cherished North Fork Valley. They have ignored a well-researched "North Fork Alternative Plan," instead clearly favoring industry's "Preferred Alternative," which will wrench open more than 100,000 acres of our watershed, wildlife habitat, hunting grounds and recreation lands to heavy, long-duration and intensely impactful oil and gas development.
While the citizens' approach provides for a measured and careful stewardship, the BLM's plan is nothing less than a well-planned road map to unimpeded industrialization and lingering pollution in the North Fork Valley. This has major implications for all of us living here. It is indisputable that preservation of our clean air, clean waters and well-stewarded lands is of very high value. Despite recent major challenges to our local economy, our valley remains home to an economically sustainable and growing agricultural community, one with broad and expanding connections to the Roaring Fork Valley and the Front Range. Its continuing success is highly dependent on continuing availability of clean water and unpolluted lands, both characteristics at unacceptable levels of risk should the BLM proceed with its "Preferred Alternative."
It is clear that the BLM has for decades demonstrated a preference to cede to industry's requests in granting ever-greater industrial access to our public lands. While offering access to publicly held resources is part of the agency's function, it routinely does so in a process heavily skewed towards industry. Given the risks, it is now far more critical for the BLM to listen and more wisely yield to the requests and requirements of citizens who are forced to bear the ongoing legacy of its often-poor decisions. It does not have to continue in this manner. The only good decision for this RMP, the only reasonable alternative for our North Fork Valley is for the BLM to adopt a no leasing option or to fully embrace the citizens' North Fork Alternative.
I urge everyone from the Uncompahgre and Gunnison River Valleys, from Montrose up through Delta and Whitewater and of course, up and down the North Fork Valley, to very quickly become well informed about the RMP. Its blueprint for the future affects you and your families. Learn specifically what the BLM's plans are for our homes and lands. We must do everything we can to craft and to fight for a future that we choose, one that we fully create for ourselves, rather than one that others scheme to impose upon us. We were successful several years ago in deferring a lease sale that threatened our lives and livelihoods. Much of our success was predicated on the BLM's use of an outdated RMP. Well, it is outdated no longer. Make no mistake. What we did then was very important, a victory, yes. The real battle, though, the one with the truly lingering outcomes, that battle begins now. Will you act in support of a healthy future for the North Fork?
Mitchell Gersten, MD