February 7, 2014
BLM and Park County Board of County Commissioners met on January 23, 2014 to discuss the much anticipated resource management planning process (for the large Royal Gorge Field Office area) and master leasing planning for South Park. CWF has worked to gain master leasing planning for South Park since its application to BLM in November 2011.
In addition, the Colorado Board of Land Commissioners decided at its February 6 meeting to defer offering a parcel in South Park for lease at its February 20 oil and gas lease auction. Both CWF and adjacent landowner Eddie Kochman made public comment urging deferral. Park County wrote a letter seeking deferral. Colorado Parks and Wildlife also had issued written comment in December.
Judith Kohler, Communication Manager, Public Lands, NWF, wrote the following after the meeting between Park County, Board of County Commissioners, and BLM:
BLM pledges to prepare master leasing plan for CO's South Park By Judith Kohler | 1.27.14 FAIRPLAY, Colo. - After more than two years of seeking a more detailed oil and gas plan for South Park, county officials, residents and conservationists have received assurance that one will be prepared. Area Bureau of Land Management officials said during a Jan. 16 Park County commissioners' meeting that a master leasing plan - MLP - for South Park is "a go." Tom Heinlein, the BLM's Front Range District manager, said an MLP will be written as part of a new resource management plan for the Royal Gorge Field Office, which includes South Park. "South Park is one of the MLPs we will undertake,'' Heinlein told the commissioners. The BLM expects to start holding public meetings and taking comments in late summer or early fall on what should be in the new management plan, which is expected to be finished in 2017. Park County invited Heinlein and Keith Berger, the BLM's Royal Gorge field manager to the meeting to discuss their plans for the area. County and town elected officials have formally asked the BLM to use a master leasing plan to take a close look at South Park's natural resources and the potential impacts on fish, wildlife, air and water quality before approving any new oil and gas leases. In November 2011, the Colorado Wildlife Federation submitted a written recommendation to the BLM that it prepare an MLP for South Park, which is the headwaters of the South Platte River and a major source of the Denver area's drinking water. The high-elevation basin ringed by mountains is also a world-class fishing and hunting area less than a two-hour drive from a major metro area, CWF, the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and other groups noted in an accompanying letter. A 2008 state-commissioned study found that wildlife-based recreation contributed more than $17.8 million yearly to the Park County economy. The Park County commissioners asked in a 2012 letter that the BLM make "long-term protection of South Park, Park County, a priority before major energy development changes the face of this special part of the West ." A master leasing plan is among the oil and gas leasing reforms announced by the Interior Department in 2010. It is a tool intended as a critical step between the more general, overarching resource management plan and analysis of local sites and individual wells. The goal is to address conflicts where minerals and other resources overlap before leasing. Heinlein said he's unaware that the BLM has approved any MLPs yet. The BLM pulled proposed leases in South Park from a sale after Park County officials, sportsmen's and wildlife groups protested, saying leases should be put on hold until an MLP and a new management plan are completed. Heinlein and Berger said while there's no formal mechanism for suspending leasing until new plans are written, they don't anticipate offering new leases in South Park before the management plan is final. Commissioner Mark Dowaliby said he was "really excited that this is going to look specifically at our area," adding that he applauded the BLM for moving forward with the master leasing plan. "I left that meeting feeling very, very positive," said Eddie Kochman, a South Park landowner and member of the Park County Advisory Board on the Environment. He's also a member of the Colorado Wildlife Federation and former state fisheries manager.