After a decade of deliberation, federal land managers Monday unveiled their new plan for balancing oil-and-gas exploration and other uses across 2.4 million acres of northwestern Colorado — and drew immediate sharp criticism from conservationists, landowners and industry.
The Bureau of Land Management plan opens 90 percent of the Little Snake Area to drilling, effective today, while setting limits around sage grouse breeding areas, the Vermillion Basin canyonlands and a 22-mile stretch of the Yampa River that has been deemed suitable for an official "wild and scenic" designation
"You'll never have a BLM plan that is loved by everyone because not everyone agrees on the best way to manage public lands," said BLM spokesman Steven Hall. "This tries to get at the right balance between allowing responsible oil-and-gas development and protecting wildlife habitat."
The planning began with BLM officials coordinating discussions among community groups, hoping those groups could reach a consensus. They were unable to do so.
But the community discussions over several years helped inform the final plan, which reflects Obama administration efforts to refine drafts initiated under former President George W. Bush and included input from Colorado natural resources officials.
Sage grouse challenge
A primary challenge was protecting sage grouse. Federal biologists have declared sage grouse deserving of protection under the Endangered Species Act to avert extinction. A recent legal settlement obligates the government to decide by 2015 whether the grouse must be listed as endangered.
The plan governs all activities on 1.1 million acres of BLM land and 1.3 million acres of private land where the BLM controls mineral rights across Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.
A total of 242,560 acres are now closed to leasing for drilling, including Vermillion Basin, the Yampa River stretch, Irish Canyon cultural sites, and Cold Spring Mountain. Under the previous plan, about 78,000 acres were closed.