South Park Update: The master leasing planning process in jeopardy
The South Park basin, consisting of nearly 1000 square miles, is unparalleled in Colorado and perhaps in the country. It thrives through a unique combination of natural treasures: its watershed, outdoor recreation including its prized gold medal stream fisheries, wildlife, viewsheds, paleontological artifacts, and ranching heritage. The headwaters of the South Platte River in South Park also are the source of a substantial amount of the Denver metro area’s drinking water. Its underground aquifers that connect to surface waters are fragile with extensive fractures in the geological formations.
South Park is an immensely popular destination for US and international tourists and metro area recreationists as it is located less than two hours from the metro area. A cluster of heavily used state parks and wildlife areas are Spinney Mountain State Park, Charlie Meyers Dream Stream and State Wildlife Area, Elevenmile, Badger Basin, James Mark Jones, Knight-Imler, 63 Ranch, Tarryall Reservoir, Teter, Tomahawk, and the Cline Ranch.
BLM began the master leasing planning process on June 1, 2015 for public lands it manages in South Park. Park County and diverse stakeholders including CWF have worked hard to advocate for a balanced future for the public lands managed by BLM in South Park. The Dept. of Interior issued a report on October 24, 2017 to the White House on oil and gas regulations that are "burdensome" to the oil and gas industry. Since then it has discontinued the master leasing planning tool. The process has been on track to reach balanced decisions as to future oil and gas leasing while protecting other important resource values on this iconic landscape: the watershed, gold medal streams, wildlife habitat, vistas, recreation, and cultural resources. We ask Sec. Zinke to retain landscape level planning for South Park within the overall Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan's draft environmental impact statement that we expect to be released this summer.
Master leasing planning was a tool for developing a vision for the future of the BLM-managed lands, and then making an assessment, land use decisison, and determining resource protections that are specific to South Park for those lands. Decisions include determinations of where oil and gas leasing is appropriate, conditions under which the leasing may occur and best management practices. Resource protections also may include determinations of areas that will not be open to future leasing. CWF's hope is that the process will result in a collaborative outcome that balances the diverse interests and protects important wildlife habitat, South Park's watershed, its streams, playa lakes and its vistas. CWF will continue to participate actively in the process and will conduct extensive public outreach. CWF had filed the application for master leasing planning in November 2011.
SEE CWF'S COMMENTS TO BLM DURING THE SCOPING PERIOD (7/15) UNDER NEWS and COMMENTS ON THE PRELIMINARY ALTERNATIVES UNDER OUR STAND (5/4/17)
Ecoflight flew media over South Park on September 9. Here are aerial photos, courtesy of Ecoflight:
Issues from our perspective that we addressed in our comment letter to BLM (July 2015 and May 2017) include:
- Where it is appropriate on BLM-managed lands to lease parcels in the future for oil and gas exploration/development
- Where it is inappropriate on BLM-managed lands to lease parcels in the future for oil and gas exploration/development - Distance from streams/reservoirs/wetlands/fens/playas/springs/water wells, elk/deer/pronghorn migration corridors, etc.
- What stipulations (restrictions) should be included in oil and gas leases on BLM managed lands
- Where should parcels contain stipulation of " no surface occupancy" - such as calving and fawning areas, elk/deer/pronghorn winter concentration areas, etc.
- What setback distances from streams/reservoirs/wetlands/fens/playas/springs/water wells
- Issues of surface disturbance from oil and gas infrastructure, new roads and truck traffic concerning parcels that can be leased in the future on BLM -managed lands
- Issues of archeological sites on BLM-managed lands
The Royal Gorge Field Office Resource Management Plan revision process, covering BLM-managed lands in eastern Colorado, is proceeding at the same time as the master leasing planning process.
For other resources pertinent to the master leasing planning, the County, Coaltiion for the Upper South Platte and stakeholders have supplied maps and other documents that are compiled on the CUSP website: