The Bureau of Land Management announced last week the deferral of 58 parcels, including 74,516 acres in the North Fork, from the Dec. 13 oil and gas sale.
A statement issued by BLM Colorado Nov. 2 explains, "BLM Colorado is deferring parcels that contain big game habitat in cooperation with a request from the State of Colorado to delay leasing to allow consideration of further habitat protections. The State of Colorado had also requested leasing in the North Fork Valley be delayed until the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan is completed."
"While the deferral of these leases is a great short-term result, we are in need of permanent protections for the lands and resources of the North Fork Valley," said Patrick Cooling, interim director, Western Slope Conservation Center. "We continue to advocate for the inclusion of the North Fork Alternative Plan in the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office's Resource Management Plan, as we believe it will provide the necessary measures to adequately protect the incredible natural resources of our public lands."
Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sent letters to the Colorado Bureau of Land Management requesting these deferrals, amplifying appeals from the state of Colorado, the Town of Paonia, Gunnison County, and conservation groups.
"We appreciate the BLM's thoughtful decision to listen to the concerns of Coloradans," Bennet said. "The governor and I worked in lockstep to ensure the input of communities, sportsmen, and conservationists was at the center of this process. We will continue working with the BLM to balance responsible energy development with other natural resource priorities in Colorado."
The Western Environmental Law Center provided technical comments opposing these leases and later filed formal protests requesting their deferral.
"We're grateful to Senator Bennet and Governor Hickenlooper for taking action on behalf of the many Coloradans who voiced concerns about oil and gas leasing on these public lands," said Laura King with the Western Environmental Law Center. "The Bureau of Land Management did the right thing here by acting to better balance public land use in a state with such strong conservation values."
Earlier in October, BLM removed 142 parcels containing greater sage grouse habitat totaling approximately 141,478 acres from the December sale. The December lease sale, which originally included approximately 225,000 acres, will now include 23 parcels totaling 8,347 acres.
Delta County continues to work with Gunnison Energy on proposed oil and gas exploration on private lands and in the Gunnison National Forest north of Paonia.
During a preliminary hearing in Delta District Court on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Judge Steven Schultz found probable cause for second degree murder charges against Heather Jones.
Jones previously faced three counts in the shooting of Ryan Redifer in Paonia on Jan. 12, 2018 -- assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree and violation of a protection order.