CWF comments re South Park MLP preliminary alternatives

May 4, 2017

 Below is the text of the comment letter CWF submitted to BLM re South Park master leasing planning preliminary alternatives for the public lands BLM manages in South Park.

 May 4, 2017                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Keith Berger

Field Manager                                                                                                

Royal Gorge Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

3028 East Main Street

Canon City, Colorado 81212

 John Smeins

RMP Project Manager

Royal Gorge Field Office

3028 East Main Street

Canon City, Colorado 81212

  Transmitted by email:  ECRMP.comments@blm.gov

                                       rgfo_rmp_comments@blm.gov

 

RE: comments on preliminary alternatives for the South Park Master Leasing Plan portion of the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan

Dear Mr. Berger and Mr. Smeins:

Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) are pleased to offer our comments on the preliminary alternatives for the South Park Master Leasing Plan (MLP).  As to the overall Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan (RMP), we incorporate by reference and have signed onto the comment letter prepared by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  CWF was founded in 1953 and has a long history of constructive involvement in wildlife, habitat and public lands management issues as an advocate for wildlife to be fully considered, addressed and safeguarded in planning, decision making and monitoring.  NWF represents the power and commitment of over six million members and supporters joined by affiliated organizations in 50 states and territories and the District of Columbia, including CWF.  CWF’s and NWF’s members recreate on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that are the subject of the land use planning and management decision making under consideration. They also highly value, use and enjoy the fish and wildlife supported by these lands.

 

Introduction: South Park Master Leasing Plan Comments on the Preliminary Alternatives

To date, the master leasing planning process offers a genuine opportunity to become a model for collaborative landscape level planning elsewhere. CWF and NWF appreciate that BLM has added the valuable step of developing preliminary alternatives which has benefitted both the public and cooperating agencies.  The public has benefitted from the overview of the draft on November 15, 2016 in a public meeting convened by BLM in Fairplay, and during the past two months, the opportunity to learn about, review and comment on the preliminary alternatives.   Cooperating agencies benefitted by being invited to discuss the draft with BLM in November and December, as well as during this comment period.  We also are pleased that the Comparison of Alternatives for South Park is presented as a separate section of the Report that is easy to locate.

 CWF and NWF are pleased with the progress demonstrated in the preliminary alternatives to balance opportunities for energy development with protections for water, wildlife, recreation and other important resource values in South Park. We commend the BLM's statement of the South Park resource goal: "Allow for oil and gas development while protecting surface and ground water quality, wetlands, air quality, fish and wildlife resources, cultural and historic resources, recreational, visual/scenic values and quality of life in the South Park MLP area."  This laudable goal is consistent with BLM Standard 3 of the Colorado Public Land Health Standards (1997). 

 Implementation of the goal will require measurable outcomes and a detailed plan.  BLM must now move forward to prepare an in-depth plan for responsible oil and gas development, where appropriate, on lands it manages in South Park.  There have been past leasing proposals in South Park that have generated significant local conflict and broad regional concern over the impact that energy development in particular areas would have on important fish, water and wildlife resources, including the Denver and Aurora drinking water supply.  Local residents and businesses, sportsmen, and important regional stakeholders, including water providers and energy companies, all would benefit from a detailed plan to guide future energy development in South Park.

 

The preliminary alternatives include many strong protections for fish and wildlife as well as ground and surface waters.  We appreciate that the preliminary alternatives clearly reflect input provided earlier by Park County, CWF and other stakeholders.

Alternatives B and D each presents a variety of safeguards to these resources, including many of the same or similar protections.  They should be combined and supplemented to develop a preferred alternative that provides specific guidance in the management plan that will funnel energy development to appropriate locations with reasonable stipulations and also protect South Park's outstanding resources. Standing alone, neither Alternative B nor D would adequately protect the fish and wildlife, water quality, recreation, vistas, and other resources that are integral to and interwoven within these public lands and connected with the larger mosaic of ownerships throughout South Park.

 

Wildlife

BLM Lands Adjacent to James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area

On March 8, 2017, the Colorado State Land Board (SLB) decided to approve Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) request for a ten-year No Surface Occupancy (NSO) on the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area (JMJSWA).  As JMJSWA is located within the proposed MLP boundary, BLM should consider including the agreement in the MLP RMP document. It could be inserted into Section 5.2.4.2.1 (beginning on page 239 and/or within the MLP text).

Recently CWF met with CPW to discuss the SLB’s decision, and the unlikely event that some SLB minerals could be stranded. This is because the SLB Order includes a provision that the SLB may terminate the NSO agreement if SLB minerals become stranded or unable to be developed. CWF and CPW concluded that BLM should switch the stipulations for one parcel (immediately to the northeast of JMJSWA) along County Road 734 from NSO to Timing Limitations (TL). The switch in stipulations would focus any mineral development to occur in the least impactful area of BLM lands around the JMJSWA, and not strand any SLB minerals. As to a buffer within this parcel along County Road 734, an exception to the NSO or controlled surface use should be crafted that limits such buffer to 492 feet. (The Draft RMP Amendment for oil and gas leasing in Sierra and Otero Counties, New Mexico was issued with a preferred alternative that would limit new surface disturbance in the grasslands to within 492 feet (150 meters) of existing roads to minimize habitat fragmentation.) CWF supports BLM and CPW working together with SLB to identify BLM-managed parcels adjacent to  the east side of JMJSWA that could be altered from NSO to TL, as necessary.  It is essential to protect the higher value wildlife habitats located on the western side of Reinecker Ridge.  Consistent with the above, Alternative D and Map K-9 specify closure to leasing of the parcels area adjacent to northwest area of JMJSWA (4000 acres of surface area and 4400 acres of mineral estate); Alternative B and Map K-4 indicate NSO in that area. 

 Alternative B South Park MLP Allowable Uses 26-36 are essential for these specified species and should be incorporated into the preferred alternative.  South Park MLP Management Action 12, too, is essential for species such as mountain plover, a CPW "species of concern."  It is important that BLM include species-specific maps in the draft EIS/RMP. As to habitats, Alternative B South Park Allowable Use 38 also should become incorporated into the preferred alternative as the 0.25 mile buffer better safeguards the habitat than the provision in Alternative D which confines protection to the boundary without any buffer.  Allowable Use 39 in Alternatives B and D is important to carry forward into the preferred alternative as well.

 

Water Quality

As demonstrated by the studies conducted in South Park by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and cited by Park County during this planning process, it is essential that BLM monitor and protect surface water and groundwater quality on BLM-administered acreages.  The importance of wetlands to drinking water quality, fish and wildlife, and overall health of the ecosystem is well documented.  In addition, the Upper South Platte Watershed supplies a substantial amount of drinking water to residents of Denver and Aurora.  That is, it is imperative to understand and protect the fragile aquifers and groundwater resources.  The MLP should include a description of all aquifers in the MLP area, map of faults in the area, maps locating sensitive groundwater resources and their uses, and a summary of available water quality and water yield information for each aquifer, as well as trends.  The studies are available on the Coalition for the Upper South Platte website.

 

Setback from Gold Medal Waters

Alternative D specifies prohibited surface occupancy with 2,640 feet of the ordinary high water mark of Gold Medal waters.  This setback is consistent with the recommendations made during this process by many stakeholders and should be incorporated into the preferred alternative.  This buffer is needed to maintain the extraordinary recreational experience that anglers in Colorado, the United States and internationally value in South Park’s gold medal waters.  Alternative B would prohibit surface occupancy and use for oil and gas activities within 1,312 feet of the ordinary high water mark of only the South Platte River.  Apparently, the setback for gold medal waters elsewhere in the Upper South Platte Watershed would be limited to 328 feet under this Alternative.

 

 Setback from Other Streams

Alternative B specifies a setback of 328 feet from perennial, intermittent and ephemeral streams, riparian areas, fens, wetlands and water impoundments.  Alternative D Allowable Use 11 provides for a 500-feet setback except for ephemeral streams where a 100-feet setback is stated.  Consistent with Alternative D, Park County, CWF and NWF and many other stakeholders recommended the following no surface occupancy setbacks on BLM lands in South Park from surface waters in the Upper South Platte Watershed:

§  500-feet setback from the ordinary high-water mark of water bodies: perennial and intermittent streams, lakes, reservoirs, springs, wetlands, other riparian areas.

§  No surface occupancy within 100-year floodplains, or 500 feet from the stream, whichever is greater

§  100 feet from ephemeral drainages

 

Native Cutthroat Trout

Alternative D would protect waters "containing" or "designated for introduction of" native cutthroat trout. Alternative D prohibits surface occupancy within 0.25 mile, measured from the ordinary high water mark of a water body containing native cutthroat trout or a water body designated for introduction of native cutthroat trout.  There is no similar action under Alternative B.  Alternative D should become incorporated into the preferred alternative.

 

Best Management Practices

We urge that the preferred alternative require operators to adhere to the best management practices that are specified in Alternative D for both leasing and development activities in the planning area.   CPW has additional and some different BMPs from BLM that are more protective for particular species in its 2016 document that should be integrated into the preferred alternative.

 

 Phased Leasing and Development

Phased development of leased acreage is addressed in Alternatives B and D. BLM should add phased leasing to protect the resources listed in the South Park Resources Goal.  For example, in the Dinosaur Trail MLP, BLM prioritized new leasing on lower-conflict lands with the strongest potential for successful oil and gas development.  See White River Field Office Oil and Gas RMP Amendment (2015) at p.2-45. Phased leasing and development together with adequate monitoring, would help ensure that the MLP's stated objectives for conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitat within South Park are actually met and that "course corrections" are possible based upon new or better information.

 

 Master Development Plans

Under the preliminary alternatives, BLM will require Master Development Plans (MDPs) for "field development applications for permits to drill." Preliminary Alternatives Report at 321. MDPs are an important tool to reduce the density of roads, rigs and pipelines needed for development.  In the Draft MLP, BLM should include MDP requirements and clarify when they will be required.  As in the Dinosaur Trail MLP, BLM should require that operators in South Park complete MDPs for exploratory activities as well as field development.  Much of the new drilling activity in South Park is anticipated to be exploratory.

 

 Waivers, Exceptions and Modifications

The process and criteria for applying waivers, exceptions and modifications to lease stipulations is one of overarching importance but is not addressed in the preliminary alternatives.  In our scoping comments, CWF and NWF had recommended the following language for no surface occupancy stipulations and urge that BLM adopt this policy when developing the preferred alternative:

              To ensure proper management, the Authorized Officer may grant an exception to a No Surface Occupancy stipulation only where the proposed action:

(i)             Would be the preferable course of action to meet the goals and objectives of the RMP; or,

(ii)           Is proposed to be undertaken as an alternative to a similar action occurring on a nearby parcel, and would provide a clear net conservation gain to priority wildlife habitat.

Exceptions to this lease stipulation based on (i) above should be granted only after consultation with Park County, affected landowners and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Exceptions should be granted only where allowing surface occupancy at a specific site within the lease parcel would better achieve the goals and objectives of the RMP than siting surface occupancy elsewhere.  Exceptions based on (ii) should be granted only after consultation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and also should include measures, such as enforceable institutional controls and buffers, sufficient to allow the BLM to conclude that such benefits will endure for the duration of the proposed action’s impacts. Approved Exceptions should be made publicly available at least quarterly.

 

CWF and NWF look forward to continuing our active participation in the South Park master

leasing planning process as it progresses, as well as in the overall RMP.

 

Sincerely,

 

Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director, Colorado Wildlife Federation

  

Kathleen C. Zimmerman, Public Lands Policy Director

National Wildlife Federation

Rocky Mountain Regional Center

303 East 17th Avenue, Suite 15

Denver, Colorado 80203

(303) 441-5159    zimmerman@nwf.org

 

 

 

 

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