CWF-NWF file protest with BLM re NW Larimer Co and North Park parcels

March 12, 2013

 

     

On March 11, CWF and NWF filed a protest with the BLM re inclusion of 3 parcels in the oil and gas lease auction on May 9, 2013. Kremmling Field Office based its proposed leasing upon its nearly three-decade old 1984 resource management plan.   BLM should finalize its draft new resource management plan before leasing new parcels with high value wildlife. See text of the Protest below:  

March 11, 2013

 

Helen Hankins, Director

Bureau of Land Management Colorado State Office
2850 Youngfield Street
Lakewood CO 80215

 

   Transmitted by fax to:  BLM Colorado State Office 303-239-3799

 

RE: Protest of Kremmling Resource Area Parcels COC 76002, COC 76003, and COC 76004

 

State Director Hankins:

 

The National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation protest the inclusion of parcels COC76002, COC76003, and COC76004 in the May 9, 2013 Competitive Oil and Gas Lease Sale to be held by the Colorado State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Pursuant to 43 C.F.R. §§ 4.450-2 and 3120.1-3, interested parties may make a timely protest to the decision to offer leases for sale, and the State Director must make a final sale determination based on the issues raised.

 

CWF is Colorado’s oldest statewide wildlife conservation organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose members consist of hunters, anglers, viewers, birders, and other wildlife enthusiasts.  CWF’s mission is to promote the conservation, sound management and sustainable use and enjoyment of Colorado’s wildlife and habitat through education and advocacy.  CWF understands that wildlife habitat is critical to conserving Colorado’s unique wildlife, fishing and hunting heritage, and wildlife viewing opportunities. These wildlife-related recreation pursuits enrich the well-being of residents and visitors and form a substantial segment of Colorado’s economy.  As an organization, NWF represents the power and commitment of four million members and supporters joined by affiliated organizations in 47 states and territories.  NWF and its affiliates have a long history of working to conserve the wildlife and wild places on federal public lands in the West.  Many members of CWF and NWF use the lands and resources that will be impacted in Larimer and Jackson Counties.

 

CWF and NWF submitted timely comments on the inclusion of the three proposed parcels in the Kremmling Field Office (KFO) Environmental Assessment (EA) for the BLM’s proposed May 2013 Colorado Lease Sale. 

 

CWF and NWF oppose inclusion of each of the two remaining parcels in northwestern Larimer County and the parcel in Jackson County that are proposed for May lease auction in the EA.  As to each of these three parcels, we urge that BLM adopt the No Action Alternative.  

 

The Kremmling Field Office has proposed leasing these parcels based upon its nearly three-decade-old 1984 resource management plan (RMP). This is a plan that the KFO has acknowledged is sorely in need of revision, and is indeed currently in the process of revision. While FLPMA and NEPA do not foreclose new actions during a plan revision, neither do they dictate that BLM must move ahead with under-analyzed lease actions that threaten to foreclose the possibility of considering meaningful alternatives in a revised plan.

 

For the BLM to maintain a real range of potential alternatives for the Kremmling Resource Area, BLM should finalize the new RMP for the Kremmling Field Office before leasing any new parcels, or, at the very least, any new parcels with potential sage-grouse or other high-value/high-risk resources. If the BLM leases these parcels at the May 2013 auction, the agency will be leasing lands without the best information or thorough review of the leases’ compatibility with decision that will emerge in the new RMP.  After the leases are issued, all future management decisions about the development of those parcels are confined to the terms of the lease, limiting BLM’s management flexibility.  Leasing at the May auction without the benefit of an updated resource management plan can produce a situation where lease terms and future natural gas development are inconsistent with the new management plan, creating the possibility of conflicts with resource protection.   By deferring these leases, the BLM will ensure any future development that occurs is the result of a thoughtful, collaborative plan that balances energy development with other multiple uses – including hunting and its significant economic contribution - and the needs of the community.

 

Using its 28-year old RMP, BLM also determined that leasing these parcels will have no environmental impact.  BLM issued a Finding of No Significant Impact for all of these parcels.  BLM’s interpretation of the intensity and the context criteria apparently is that they are applied on a basis of state-wide importance.  Under 40 C.F.R.  § 1508.27,  “‘Significantly’ as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity….Context… means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality.  Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action.  For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend on the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole.” (emphasis added). Given the limited amount of remaining sage-grouse habitat in Colorado generally and in North Park specifically, even a 160-acre or 80-acre sacrifice is important in the context of the species’ remaining population.

 

The admittedly obsolete existing RMP and the foreseeable impacts of future development on these leases, preclude justifying a “finding of no significant impact” for this lease sale. 

 

Sportsmen and other outdoor recreationists recognize that oil and gas leasing and development is a legitimate use of public lands.  However, we are concerned by the trend in Colorado where the BLM continues to offer parcels for lease prior to completing revisions to outdated RMPs.  Sportsmen request that before leases are issued, a full analysis of fish and wildlife populations be conducted, the effects of drilling disclosed, a full range of alternatives considered and effective stipulations applied. In addition, the public must be engaged in this process.

 

In the context of the greater sage-grouse in Colorado, an intense impact in a small context certainly can be significant.  There are few populations in the state and the North Park population is small, and risks extirpation.  Larimer County parcels COC76002 and COC76003 lie in the heart of some of the best elk and deer hunting areas in the Laramie River Valley. This area is regrowth from the old Bull Mountain fire, featuring much lodgepole and regenerated clear cuts. In addition, the west side of the parcels are primarily aspen vegetation and are heavily used by deer and elk during winter and spring months; it is considered for timber management to improve the habitat for elk.  The parcels serve as winter range for most of the Laramie River Valley and encompass an elk winter concentration area and elk production areas (Parcels COC76002 and 76003).   Elk hunting is big business in this area. 600 elk have been counted in the sagebrush during a recent winter. Both Larimer County parcels are also moose winter range.

 

Jackson County Parcel COC76004 also contains Preliminary Priority Habitat for greater sage-grouse. EA at 34. Given the species’ precarious viability, eligibility for Endangered Species Act listing, the critical role of BLM-managed public land, and  BLM’s ongoing process to revise management plans to address current science on sage-grouse conservation, the proposed leasing of priority sage-grouse habitat with only a general ESA consultation stipulation (CO-34) is imprudent, premature, and counterproductive. While we appreciate the deferral of the Larimer County parcel designated 6563 in the EA in response to Colorado Parks and Wildlife concerns (EA at 68), there is no reason that similar care should be taken with the species’ priority habitat within Parcel COC76004. Although BLM stated in response to Rocky Mountain Wild’s scoping comments that “[i]f development is proposed in these areas, a thorough environmental analysis will be completed prior to any surface disturbing activities,” (EA at 70), piecemeal analysis of existing leases (particularly leases that do not explicitly reserve the right to prohibit surface occupancy) is a wholly inadequate substitute for waiting to properly utilize the comprehensive, range-wide sage-grouse conservation analysis currently in progress.

 

As you know, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is reconsidering the listing status of greater sage-grouse.  The decision to list sage-grouse as “not warranted” in 2005 was remanded for agency reconsideration for failure to consider best science available.  Western Watersheds Project v. USFWS, 535 F.Supp.2d 1173 (D. Id. 2007).  The USFWS subsequently listed the sage-grouse as “warranted but precluded” in 2010.  75 Fed. Reg. 13910 (March 23, 2010).  The agency is currently reviewing this determination, and intends to have a final listing determination by 2015.  Although this designation was upheld after being challenged, the court specifically limited the finding based on the fact that USFWS has expressed a discrete timeline for resolution of the listing.  Western Watersheds Project v. USFWS, 2012 WL 369168 at 17 (D. Id. 2012).  The USFWS has identified inadequate regulatory measures as one of the main threats facing the sage-grouse.  Id.  The BLM currently manages over fifty percent of existing sage-grouse habitat, and is in a position to greatly impact the future trajectory of the population.  Bureau of Land Mgmt., Department of the Interior, Instruction Memorandum (IM) 2012-044 (Dec. 27, 2011).  The IM states that the BLM recognizes that it “needs to incorporate explicit objectives and desired habitat conditions, management actions, and area-wide use restrictions.” It also states, while acknowledging that individual plans may reach differing conclusions, the agency “must consider all conservation measures developed by the Sage-Grouse National Technical Team.” (emphasis added). 

 

In light of this judicial and agency action, the BLM has committed itself to reviewing and revising all of its RMPs to reflect a more conservative approach to sage-grouse management.  76 Fed. Reg. 237 (Dec. 9, 2011).  According to the BLM’s planning strategy, the BLM will incorporate “consistent objectives and conservation measures for the protection of greater sage-grouse and its habitat. . . in order to avoid potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.” Id.  The BLM issued interim management guidelines to be followed until all management areas have completed RMP revisions that take into account updated information and issues.  Bureau of Land Mgmt., Dep’t of the Interior, Instruction Memorandum 2012-043 (Dec. 22, 2011).  These guidelines indicate that field offices should “seek to maintain, enhance, or restore conditions” for the sage-grouse and its habitat.  Id. at 2.  Additionally, new leases must require lessees to minimize impacts to sage-grouse habitat, and avoid closing any future options.  Id.

 

The Wildlife Federations support responsible oil and gas development where compatible with the conservation of fish, wildlife, recreation, and other resources. However, proceeding to lease (without sufficiently protective stipulations) important habitat for mule deer, elk, moose, and greater sage-grouse while the Kremmling resource management plan is still under review to address impacts of oil and gas development does not meet BLM’s planning, environmental review, and multiple-use mandates. For development to occur responsibly in these areas, high-quality current scientific, geographic, and biological information must be utilized. When existing land-use plans fail to take into account current realities of energy demand, technical capability, wildlife population levels and viability, and current understanding of conservation and mitigation needs, BLM should avoid irretrievable lease commitments until adequate analysis and planning can be completed. The Federations appreciate the Kremmling office’s plan revision that was initiated back in 2006 and look forward to the opportunity to continue participation in collaborative efforts to ensure responsible development within the planning area. We urge the State Office not to foreclose opportunities for balanced development by leasing these parcels with insufficient stipulations prior to completion of the necessary analysis.

 

For the above reasons, NWF and CWF protest the inclusion of Parcels COC76002, COC76003, and COC76004 in the May 2013 lease sale. Deferring these parcels will protect fish, wildlife, habitat, and the economically important recreational opportunities, and will best achieve the BLM’s statutory mandate of developing mineral resources while maintaining multiple use and sustained yield.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Suzanne O’Neill

Executive Director

Colorado Wildlife Federation

1410 Grant St.  C-313

Denver CO  80203

303-987-0400

cwfed@coloradowildlife.org

 

 

 

Michael A. Saul

Counsel for National Wildlife Federation

2995 Baseline Road, Suite 300

Boulder CO  80303

303-441-5166

Fax 303-786-8911

saul@nwf.org

 

 

 

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