October 30, 2008
by the National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation
of the inclusion of certain parcels
in the Notice of Competitive Lease Sale, Oil and Gas, dated September 12, 2008,
for the lease sale scheduled for November 13, 2008,
issued by the Colorado State Office of the United States Bureau of Land Management
VIA FACSIMILE 303-239-3799
The National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation hereby protest the inclusion of the following parcels in the Notice of Competitive Lease Sale, Oil and Gas, dated September 12, 2008 (hereinafter Lease Sale Notice), for the lease sale scheduled for November 13, 2008, issued by the Colorado State Office of the United States Bureau of Land Management:
Interests of the Protestors
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is a national organization, with forty-eight state affiliate organizations, dedicated to the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife and their habitat for the benefit of this and future generations. The Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF) is an affiliate of NWF and is Colorado’s oldest wildlife conservation organization.
The parcels that are the subject of this protest contain important habitat in Colorado for wildlife and fish species including, but not limited to, deer, elk, Gunnison sage-grouse and Colorado River cutthroat trout. NWF and CWF members use the federal land on and around these parcels for recreational and professional purposes including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, and scientific study.
If the proposed lease sale goes forward as announced, NWF’s and CWF’s members’ use and enjoyment of lands proposed for leasing will be impaired by the extensive oil and gas development that may occur on the parcels under protest. That impairment will include, but not be limited to, the sights and sounds of industrial development; the impairment of air quality; and, most important, the displacement of wildlife from winter and summer ranges, calving grounds, including grouse breeding, roosting, and winter habitat; the interruption of migration corridors; and the degradation of stream habitats for fish.
Of particular importance to NWF and CWF members are the lands within and adjacent to Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area that will be adversely affected by energy development. As adjacent public and private lands are under intense energy development, the state wildlife area adjacent to parcel COC 73255 is critical to the health of big game within Game Management Unit 42. By allowing intensive energy development in close proximity to some of the last remaining undeveloped range, the proposed lease sale would place these deer and elk herds at risk.
Statement of Reasons for Protest
Under the statutory and regulatory provisions authorizing this lease sale, the BLM has full discretion whether or not to offer these lease parcels for sale. The Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. § 226(a), provides that “[a]ll lands subject to disposition under this chapter which are known or believed to contain oil and gas deposits may be leased by the Secretary.” (emphasis added). The Supreme Court has concluded that this “left the Secretary discretion to refuse to issue any lease at all on a given tract.” Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 4 (1965); see also Wyoming ex rel. Sullivan v. Lujan, 969 F.2d 877 (10th Cir. 1992); McDonald v. Clark, 771 F.2d 460, 463 (10th Cir. 1985) (“While the [Mineral Leasing Act] gives the Secretary the authority to lease government lands under oil and gas leases, this power is discretionary rather than mandatory.”); Burglin v. Morton, 527 F.2d 486, 488 (9th Cir. 1975). As discussed in detail below, the BLM should defer or modify the proposed leasing of lands: (a) adjacent to Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area; (b) containing other important mule deer and elk winter habitat and/or migration corridors; (c) containing Gunnison sage-grouse production areas in San Miguel County; or (d) within watersheds supporting sensitive native cutthroat trout. As set forth below, the exercise of discretion in this manner is appropriate and necessary.
The National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(C), requires the BLM to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of their proposed actions. Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390, 410 n.21 (1976). When offering oil and gas leases for sale without stipulations prohibiting surface occupancy—leases such as the proposed November 2008 leases under protest—the agencies must assess the environmental impacts of reasonably foreseeable post-leasing oil and gas development prior to issuance of the lease. See, e.g., Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 159 IBLA 220, 240-43 (2003); Pennaco Energy, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, 377 F.3d 1147 (10th Cir. 2004); Conner v. Burford, 848 F.2d 1441 (9th Cir. 1988); Sierra Club v. Peterson, 717 F.2d 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Reliance on RMP documents alone cannot suffice for the core NEPA function of adequate consideration of alternatives. See Pennaco Energy, 377 F.3d at 1162 (explaining that documents such as “Determinations of NEPA Adequacy” cannot satisfy NEPA’s “hard look” standard). Because none of the November 2007 lease parcels are entirely No Surface Occupancy (“NSO”) leases, leasing, which confers specific rights to develop that the BLM and Forest Service cannot readily deny, is a concrete federal action with readily foreseeable environmental effects, and cannot legally go forward without NEPA analysis. See 43 C.F.R. § 3101.1-2.
With respect to Gunnison sage-grouse, mule deer, and elk, BLM is in possession of substantial and material new information about the current condition of habitat and wildlife populations, the impacts of oil and gas drilling on the habitat, and recommended management measures for reducing the adverse effects of development on wildlife populations. It is key that the BLM take this information into account before leasing parcels, as the agency has acknowledged, both by withdrawing sage-grouse habitat within the White River resource area from the February 7, 2007 lease sale for further analysis; by amending the November lease sale to defer Gunnison Sage Grouse occupied habitat from leasing, see Notice of Addendum, October 5, 2007; and by deferring numerous grouse-occupied parcels from the November 8, 2007 lease sale for evaluation or further consultation with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, see BLM Colorado, Notice of Addendum to Competitive Oil and Gas Lease Sale Notice, October 30, 2007.
This consideration is vital because this new data was not taken into account either when the BLM completed the environmental analysis for the current RMPs or in their 1991 oil and gas leasing amendments. The recent decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals in Center for Native Ecosystems, has confirmed the need to complete additional analysis before leasing, stating that “whether more NEPA analysis based on new information is required depends on the nature of the NEPA analysis already completed, and the nature of the information available at the time of the agency action.” 170 IBLA 331, 346 (2006). As in CNE, because the BLM’s existing NEPA documentation contains no analysis of significant new information from CDOW and other sources regarding impacts to mule deer, elk, and Gunnison sage-grouse, BLM must complete further NEPA analysis prior to issuing leases.
I. PARCEL COC 73255: GARFIELD CREEK STATE WILDLIFE AREA
PARCELS COC 73257, 73259, 73260, 73261, 73263: ELK AND MULE DEER WINTER RANGE AND MIGRATION CORRIDORS
A. Description Of Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area and Other Critical Big Game Habitat
The Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area (“SWA”) is an oasis of relatively pristine deer and elk habitat. In addition to containing large areas of winter range for big game, the SWA is unique as one of the few remaining areas of complete deer and elk habitat, providing high quality forage for big game throughout the year. The SWA is particularly valuable for its extensive winter range, much of which is designated “critical” by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW). As the Colorado Division of Wildlife noted in detail in a letter of January 30, 2008, regarding earlier proposed leases (since deferred) within the SWA, the SWA serves several important wildlife conservation functions for deer and elk in the face of oil and gas development, agricultural land uses, and the issues posed for wildlife near the I-70 corridor:
Due to significant increases in mineral leasing and mineral development activities in and around Garfield Creek SWA, CDOW is concerned that any additional habitat alteration in and around this SWA will negatively affect CDOW’s ability to fulfill its statutory mandate to manage wildlife populations at the SWA for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the people of this state and its visitors.
Garfield Creek was purchased with specific goals in mind. The SWA contains an entire ecosystem from low elevation winter range to high elevation summer range. One of the main goals of the wildlife area is to hold deer and elk off of neighboring agricultural properties where extensive game damage occurs. A second goal is to hold elk off of the Colorado River corridor and Interstate 70 to avoid vehicle collisions. Garfield Creek has accomplished these goals because it is relatively undisturbed. The area incorporates irrigated fields and habitat projects designed to entice elk to remain on site. Winter range in the area is being reduced significantly by housing and energy development. In short, the wildlife area provides crucial winter range for deer and elk that are finding fewer and fewer places to inhabit without conflict.
Letter from Thomas E. Remington, Director, Colorado Division of Wildlife, to Sally Wisely, State Director, Colorado Bureau of Land Management, at 1-2 (Jan. 30, 2008). The SWA has been the site of mitigation projects to offset other energy development, as well as extensive conservation efforts by CWF, the Colorado Mule Deer Association, and other groups.
Nevertheless, the SWA is being increasingly threatened by the cumulative, direct and indirect impacts of oil and gas development. These impacts occur primarily at two levels. First, development within the GSRA, and particularly within the CDOW’s Game Management Unit 42 (“GMU 42”), in which the SWA is located, increases stress on the SWA’s valuable habitat. Second, oil and gas development is becoming more intensive in the immediate vicinity of the park and has the potential to affect population density, available range, and wildlife-human conflicts for big game.
We would also note that the proposed lease sale includes several thousand acres of additional elk, mule deer, and pronghorn critical winter habitat and migration corridors, with similar reliance on timing limitation stipulations but no provision, in lease stipulations, for limiting density of surface development or otherwise managing habitat loss and fragmentation. Parcels of particular concern include COC 73257 (elk winter concentration and mule deer critical winter range), COC 73259 (elk winter concentration and mule deer critical winter range), COC 73260 (elk winter concentration), COC 73261 (elk winter concentration), and COC73263 (elk migration corridor and winter concentration, mule deer critical winter range).
B. The Leasing Of Lands Adjacent To Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area Absent Full Examination Of The Environmental Consequences Will Violate The National Environmental Policy Act.
We commend the BLM’s decision to defer leasing of federal fluid minerals directly beneath the SWA pending the ongoing revision of the Glenwood Springs Resource Management Plan. However, we are very concerned by the proposed leasing of COC 73255, adjacent to the SWA, and believe that it should be deferred to allow adequate analysis and consideration of alternatives to the same habitat impacts as would be implicated by no surface occupancy leasing of minerals within in the SWA itself. In the September 22, 2008, Documentation of Land Use Plan Conformance and NEPA Adequacy, No. CO140-2008-125 DNA, prepared by the Glenwood Springs Energy Office (“DNA”), the BLM concludes that leasing of the SWA would forego options that the BLM might wish to incorporate in the ongoing revision of the Glenwood Springs Resource Area Resource Management Plan. DNA 3. Specifically, the DNA states:
The March 1999 Oil and Gas EIS Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan Amendment placed a No Surface Occupancy (NSO) on any Federal fluid mineral leases subsequently issued for Federal mineral estate beneath the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area (SWA). At the time, it was thought by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and BLM that an NSO stipulation would provide adequate protection of wildlife resources and habitat use by preclude ground-disturbing activities on SWA surface. However, with the recent rapid expansion of clustered directional drilling, including drilling from fee lands to access Federal minerals, issuance of leases beneath the SWA is likely to result in intensive oil and gas development on adjacent private or BLM surface. CDOW has expressed concern that intensive offsite development associated with drilling up to 22 wells from multiple well pads on adjacent offsite lands to access fluid minerals beneath the SWA could adversely affect wildlife populations and seasonally important habitat use within the SWA, notwithstanding the NSO stipulation.
In light of these concerns, the GSFO’s cooperating agency process for our current RMP revision has identified and is considering different wildlife management options to be incorporated into the range of alternatives for leasing in the Garfield Creek SWA. Continued leasing of lands beneath the SWA pursuant to the 1999 plan will forego management options that we might otherwise wish to incorporate into the new plan. Therefore, we recommend that leasing of portions of Parcel 4957 underlying State-owned surface in the Garfield Creek SWA be deferred.
DNA 3. The DNA then concludes that parcels “located at distances of at least 0.25 mile from the SWA . . . will provide an adequate buffer.” As discussed below, we believe that the 1999 Glenwood Springs Oil and Gas EIS, the ongoing RMP revision, and the new information available to the BLM, do not support such leasing.
1. The Timing Limitation Stipulations Contained in the November 2008 Lease Parcels Do Not Adequately Address the Cumulative Impacts of Mineral Leasing
Extensive oil and gas development is likely to have impacts on Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area (“the SWA”) above and beyond the already serious potential consequences acknowledged in the Bureau of Land Management’s NEPA documents for the Glenwood Springs Resource Area (GSRA). The SWA is an oasis of relatively pristine deer and elk habitat. In addition to containing large areas of winter range for big game, the SWA is unique as one of the few remaining areas of complete deer and elk habitat, providing high-quality forage for big game throughout the year. The SWA is particularly valuable for its extensive winter range, much of which is designated “critical” by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW). Nevertheless, the SWA is being increasingly threatened by the cumulative, direct and indirect impacts of oil and gas development. These impacts occur primarily at two levels. First, development within the GSRA, and particularly within the CDOW’s Game Management Unit 42 (GMU 42), in which the SWA is located, increases stress on the SWA’s valuable habitat. Second, oil and gas development is becoming more intensive in the immediate vicinity of the park and has the potential to affect both population density and available range for big game. DNA 3, Letter from Remington to Wisely 1-2.
Oil and gas development in the Glenwood Springs Resource Area (GSRA) was already, by 2005, approaching the “Reasonably Foreseeable Development” scenario projected by the most recent, 1999 Environmental Impact Statement (“1999 EIS”) for oil and gas development in the GSRA. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Preparation Plan Analysis for the Kremmling and Glenwood Springs Field Office’s Resource Management Plan Revisions 16 (2005). The Glenwood Springs Field Office has received growing numbers of Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) since the year 2000. Id. Further, the 1999 EIS projects that over the next twenty years GMU 42 will have one of the highest rates of oil and gas development in Colorado. BLM, Glenwood Springs Resource Area Final Oil and Gas Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 3-8 (1999). The 1999 EIS notes that this intensive development will increase the importance of wildlife habitats not yet impacted. Id. at 3-7. The 1999 EIS also recognizes that big game winter range is located in those areas most frequently impacted by oil and gas development. Id. at 3-11.
Winter range, as recognized in the 1999 EIS, is particularly important to maintaining big-game populations. Id. Winter range densities per square mile within GMU 42 are among the highest in Colorado. Id. at 3-12. According to the 1999 EIS, however, big-game winter range, in addition to being particularly vulnerable to oil and gas development, is already extensively compromised by conflicts with livestock grazing as well as by the replacement of native vegetation with low-quality forage. See id. at 3-7; see also BLM, Glenwood Springs Resource Area Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement G-12 (2008). Additionally, subdivision and road development in the GSRA has indirectly impacted wildlife access to the remaining winter range. Id. at 3-7. Even more significant is the BLM’s conclusion in 1999 that development in Region 4 of the GSRA, which includes almost all of the SWA, has impacted 55% of mule deer and almost 95% of elk winter range located within Region 4, greatly increasing the importance of wildlife seclusion areas in the Region. Id. at 2-27 to 2-28.
The SWA contains two of the eight wildlife seclusion areas located in the GSRA. Id. at 3-9. These are areas that contain a diversity of wildlife species greater than in other areas. Id. Seclusion areas are typically “dissected by riparian areas and often provide an important component of a species life cycle, such as a . . . winter concentration area.” Id. In addition, the SWA is home to designated winter range and severe winter range for both mule deer and elk, and is also a concentration area for big game. See id. at 3-13, 3-15 (Map 3.5-1, 2). The 1999 EIS reveals significant oil and gas development in the vicinity of the SWA, development that has undoubtedly increased in the nearly ten years since the BLM last amended its NEPA documents for the GSRA. See id. at 3-32 (Map 3.8-1).
The BLM’s own NEPA documents for the GSRA reveal both the scarcity and the vulnerability of deer and elk habitat, particularly winter range. Although the 1999 EIS does not examine the effects of oil and gas development on the SWA, two inferences can be drawn. First, overall development in the GSRA, particularly oil and gas development, has likely increased the importance of the big-game habitat within the SWA. Second, increasing development in the vicinity of the GSRA will necessarily lead to degradation of the habitat and increased competition among animals for remaining, accessible forage. These effects will result from big-game avoidance of oil and gas operations and from increased concentration of big game within remaining, relatively unaffected areas—mechanisms that the BLM recognizes in its 1999 EIS. See id. at 3-7, 4-12.
While acknowledging the importance of the habitat contained within the SWA, the present NEPA documents fail to examine the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development on the SWA. Further, the stipulations contained in the current, proposed lease parcels adjacent to the park are clearly inadequate to protect the park from these cumulative impacts. As discussed below, recent studies, as well as testimony by the CDOW, demonstrates that the proposed Timing Limitation Stipulations (TLS) and proposed 0.25 mile (400 meter) leasing buffer are insufficient to protect SWA habitat from the consequences of development on adjacent lands. Further, these consequences are recognized by the BLM’s own NEPA documents. The contradiction between the BLM’s acknowledgment of the serious consequences of oil and gas development on vital habitat like that contained in the SWA on the one hand, and the agency’s adoption of inadequate lease stipulations for the proposed lease parcels on the other, strongly suggests that the BLM has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in failing to properly analyze the specific consequences of its actions.
We would also note that the proposed lease sale includes several thousand acres of additional elk, mule deer, and pronghorn critical winter habitat and migration corridors, with similar reliance on TLS but no provision, in lease stipulations, for limiting density of surface development or otherwise managing habitat loss and fragmentation. These include COC 73257 (elk winter concentration and mule deer critical winter range), COC 73259 (elk winter concentration and mule deer critical winter range), COC 73260 (elk winter concentration), COC 73261 (elk winter concentration), and COC73263 (elk migration corridor and winter concentration, mule deer critical winter range). The current lease sale is being proposed under the current RMPs and 1991 leasing EIS that, with regard to energy development and mule deer, fail to take into account, or consider alternatives based on, significant new research demonstrating the effects of natural gas development on mule deer. The 1991 FEIS concedes that “[t]he continual human activities and associated facilities with several producing wells could have a significant impact [on big game], depending on the type and level of activity, the habitat affected, geography, and other pertinent factors.” 1991 Leasing FEIS 4-4 to 4-5. At the time, however, the BLM lacked concrete data now available demonstrating just how significant that impact is at even moderate levels of development. The Sublette Mule Deer Study, analyzing effects on mule deer from gas development in the area around Pinedale, Wyoming, has shown that mule deer avoid gas field development, and that mule deer abundance declined 46% (most likely due to reduced survival rates) in areas affected by development. Western Ecosystems Technology 2006 Annual Report, Sublette Mule Deer Study (Phase 2) i-ii. The results of the Sublette Mule Deer Study, assessing development under the standard timing stipulations relied on by BLM (Stipulation CO-09), demonstrate that the BLM’s assumption in the 1991 FEIS – that “impacts will be reduced or eliminated by the combination of timing limitation stipulations and other mitigation possible through application and enforcement of the standard lease terms and the regulations,” 1991 Leasing FEIS 4-5 – is incorrect under actual real-world development scenarios.
Although we are aware the Colorado BLM has questioned the applicability of the Sublette study to Colorado topography, and raised questions as to whether the decline in abundance reflects reduced survival or change in distribution, what is incontrovertible is that no NEPA document – neither current Glenwood Springs, Uncompahgre, or White River RMPs, nor the BLM 1991 Oil and Gas Leasing EIS – addressed this information, which simply did not exist at that time. If there are additional questions to be answered about the meaning of the Sublette results for Colorado mule deer populations, those questions should be answered before leasing, not after, with full opportunity for consideration of alternative courses of action under NEPA. We believe that the Colorado BLM should follow the example of its Montana counterpart, given the availability of substantial new information, and defer the leasing of additional mule deer winter range until such time as BLM has the opportunity to complete a comprehensive NEPA analysis of the effects of additional leasing on the species.
2. New Information Indicates that Timing Limitation Stipulations Are Inadequate to Eliminate Significant Wildlife Impacts Because they Fail to Account for the Effects of Ongoing Human Activity on the Lease Parcels.
The Timing Limitation Stipulations for the relevant November 2008 proposed lease parcels apply only to construction and initial drilling, despite substantial evidence that ongoing operations have continuous impacts on wildlife. BLM, Notice of Competitive Lease Sale: Oil and Gas 31, 54 (exhibit CO-09, GS-TL-01) (September 12, 2008). The limited scope of these TLS means that in most cases the stipulations will apply only in the first year of construction and drilling. This is despite the fact that oil and gas operations can last for over twenty years. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, In the Matter of Changes to the Rules and Regulations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the State of Colorado, Testimony of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Regarding Timing Limitations 7 (Docket # 0803-RM-02) (April 18, 2008). Ongoing operations are spread out both spatially and temporally, continually displacing animals throughout their duration. Id. at 7. The TLS do nothing to alleviate the cumulative effects of oil and gas development on big game through habitat loss, avoidance of areas around development sites, and habitat fragmentation. Id. at 8. Research indicates that increased densities of big game on remaining unaffected habitat will predictably result in reduction in survival because of increased animal density in these areas. Id. In addition, because much of the land in the GSRA has already been leased without TLS stipulations, and because the BLM lacks the power to retroactively apply TLS stipulations on previously leased lands, the effects of the proposed TLS will be undermined by operations on leased parcels not subject to the stipulations. See id. at 9. Finally, a 1996 GAO report indicated that ongoing stipulations like the TLS are frequently either not applied as required or not properly enforced by BLM field offices, suggesting that the BLM may lack the on-the-ground capacity to effectively manage stipulations like TLS that require careful, ongoing supervision. See id. at 7.
BLM NEPA documents fail to explain how TLS stipulations will protect big game from the human activity associated with ongoing oil and gas development. In fact, the 1999 EIS seems to suggest the ineffectiveness of the TLS stipulations in recognizing that the factors involved in big game avoidance of ongoing human activity include the intensity, frequency, duration, location, and time of year of the activity. See BLM, Glenwood Springs Resource Area Final Oil and Gas Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 4-19 (1999). Clearly, the TLS stipulations have no effect on the frequency, duration, and location of the development activity. And, they have only limited mitigating impact on the intensity and time of year in the first year of construction and drilling. The BLM does not explain how the limited mitigation of only some of the factors its own EIS identified as impacting on big game avoidance of development activity will adequately protect wildlife on or near the proposed lease parcels.
3. Recent Information Shows that the 400-Meter Informal Buffer Zone the BLM Relies on for Justifying Proposed Lease Parcels Adjacent to the SWA is Inadequate.
Significant new information unavailable when the BLM promulgated its most recent NEPA documentation in 1999 demonstrates that reliance on an informal a one-quarter mile (hereafter 400 meter) buffer zone from SWA boundaries applied to the November 2008 proposed lease parcels does not adequately protect the valuable habitat within the SWA. See BLM, Documentation of Land Use Plan Conformance and NEPA Adequacy (CO140-200800125 DNA) 3 (2008). In fact, the buffer zone is in conflict with the existing NSO stipulations the BLM has applied to all split-estate lands within the SWA because it is too narrow to prevent impacts from oil and gas development outside the park from impacting big game within the SWA’s boundaries.
Recent studies have shown that deer and elk avoidance of human activity extends significantly further than the 400-meter buffer zone applied by the BLM to the proposed lease parcels. A study on the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming in 2005 and 2006 showed that mule deer shifted away from oil and gas development activity to a distance of between 2.7 and 3.7 kilometers and continued to use lower-quality habitat as development continued. Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, In the Matter of Changes to the Rules and Regulations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the State of Colorado 5 (Docket # 0803-RM-02) (2008).The same study also identified a 47% decline in deer population densities on winter range exposed to energy development. Id. A separate study of elk summer avoidance of roads and active well sites showed avoidance of two or more kilometers with lesser levels of avoidance in other seasons. Id. at 16-17. A 2003 study showed the absence of elk calving areas within a range of over 1 kilometer. Id. at 17. Studies in 2000 and 2006 also showed that elk avoided ATV activity by over 1 kilometer. Id. Additionally, the CDOW has noted that studies of mule deer decline across the West have uniformly identified habitat issues as responsible for this decline, while predation and other factors had little noticeable impact. Id. at 3.
BLM conclusions fail to consider adequately these results from recent studies. The 1999 EIS asserts that big game avoidance of roads is limited to 200 meters for deer. Although the 1999 EIS does not specifically refer to elk avoidance, the draft version of the EIS states that elk avoid roads to a distance of 800 meters. Glenwood Springs Resource Area Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement G-12 (2008). Even without taking into account new information, the BLM’s 800-meter avoidance figure indicates that an informal, 400-meter buffer zone for the proposed lease parcels may be ineffective to avoid displacement of elk. Further, the BLM, in its Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), presents absolutely no evidence or analysis to support its conclusory statement that a 400-meter buffer will be adequate to avoid impacting lands within the SWA. See BLM, Documentation of Land Use Plan Conformance and NEPA Adequacy (CO140-200800125 DNA) 3 (2008). This lack of supporting evidence is particularly significant because all available evidence suggests that the BLM’s buffer zone stipulation is completely inadequate to prevent the impacts of oil and gas development from extending onto lands within the SWA protected by NSO stipulations.
Recent studies, combined with the BLM’s own recognition that development primarily affects winter range and that development in GMU 42 has been particularly extensive, suggests that continued development around the SWA will have impacts beyond those anticipated in the 1999 Amendment including increased concentration in the undeveloped areas of the SWA. The BLM has further acknowledged in its Determination of No Significant Impact (DNA) that continued leasing of lands beneath the SWA pursuant to the 1999 plan will forego management options that the BLM may wish to incorporate into its revised RMP. DNA 3. It is reasonable, therefore, to draw the inference that activities on lands adjacent to the SWA that cause effects within the SWA will also potentially have this effect. This inference is strengthened by the likelihood that the intensive development occurring around the park will create additional cumulative impacts within the park, particularly with respect to concentration within the SWA and avoidance of SWA lands near oil and gas operations. BLM has also acknowledged that “notwithstanding an NSO stipulation on SWA lands . . . [drilling in the SWA from adjacent lands] could result in direct and indirect impacts beyond those anticipated in the current RMP and amendments.” Id. at 5. It is unclear how directional drilling from adjacent lands, which the BLM seems to acknowledge would have significant impacts on big game is different from drilling operations on adjacent lands to extract oil or gas directly from those lands. The BLM contradicts itself in its own DNA documentation, therefore, by asserting that BLM NEPA documents adequately analyzed the cumulative effects of drilling on lands adjacent to the SWA, but did not adequately analyze the effects of drilling from essentially the same locations when the drilling is directional in nature. See id. at 5.
The BLM’s determination that a 400-meter buffer is adequate is unsupported by any evidence and is contradicted not only by recent studies but also by its own avoidance figure for elk contained in the 1998 Draft EIS. Further, the fact that the BLM is presently in the process of revising its Resource Management Plan for the GSRA is a tacit admission that its NEPA documentation is out of date. The BLM’s determination that a 400-meter informal buffer is adequate is therefore arbitrary and capricious.
II. PARCELS COC 73264, COC 73265, COC 73266, COC 73267, COC 73268: GUNNISION SAGE-GROUSE PRODUCTION AREAS
A. Description of Affected Gunnison Sage-Grouse Habitat
According to BLM sale notice data and Gunnison sage-grouse range data from the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), five of the parcels proposed to be leased fall contain approximately 861 of Gunnison sage-grouse production habitat in San Miguel County. These five parcels contain a combined 861 acres of Gunnison sage-grouse production areas. However, there are no Lease Stipulations attached to any of these parcels that outline protection for sage-grouse in any manner. The only relevant stipulation is the very general Exhibit CO-34, the Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation Stipulation, stating that the lessee is to be alerted that there may be habitat for threatened, endangered, candidate, or other special status species. This stipulation does not currently protect the Gunnison sage-grouse, which was determined to be “not warranted” for listing under the ESA on April 18, 2006. Final Listing Determination for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as Threatened or Endangered, 71 Fed. Reg. 19,954 (April 18, 2006). This stipulation is therefore inadequate to protect Gunnison sage-grouse production areas on the parcels in question.
Based on the Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan, CDOW recommends that there be no surface occupancy within 0.6 mile radius of Gunnison sage-grouse lek sites. For oil and gas development activities that occur within a 4.0 mile radius of leks, CDOW states that no such activities ought to occur between mid-March and late May in production areas (through the end of June for non-production areas), and that noise be specifically controlled (see the Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan, Appendix I (2005)).
B. The Leasing of Gunnison Sage-Grouse Habitat, Absent Full Examination of the Environmental Consequences, Will Violate the National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(C), requires the BLM to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of their proposed actions. Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390, 410 n.21 (1976). When offering oil and gas leases for sale without stipulations controlling surface occupancy—leases such as the proposed November leases protested herein—agencies must assess the environmental impacts of reasonably foreseeable post-leasing oil and gas development prior to issuance of the lease. See, e.g., Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 159 IBLA 220, 240-43 (2003); Pennaco Energy, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, 377 F.3d 1147 (10th Cir. 2004); Conner v. Burford, 848 F.2d 1441 (9th Cir. 1988); Sierra Club v. Peterson, 717 F.2d 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
The applicable BLM Resource Management Plan (RMP), the Uncompahgre Basin Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (1988) does not adequately address substantial relevant information that has become available since the RMP was drafted, nor does the RMP adequately address the likely effects on Gunnison sage-grouse from oil and gas development being proposed in the basin.
The BLM cannot legally avoid analysis of environmental consequences by insisting that lease issuance is a mere paper transaction without on-the-ground consequences. Regardless of the fact that additional federal actions will precede commercial drilling, the issuance of a lease (particularly without stipulations allowing the BLM to preclude surface disturbance) commits the leased parcel to development and conveys legal rights to the purchaser. See 43 C.F.R. § 3101.1-2. Following lease, land management agencies’ ability to prevent impacts to other resources is limited to those “reasonable measures” that are “consistent with lease rights granted.” Id. Where, as here, the lease right allows surface occupancy, a significant commitment of resources is made at the time of lease issuance. This is an action with readily foreseeable on-the-ground consequences. See Conner, 848 F.2d 1441; Sierra Club v. Peterson, 717 F.2d 1409, 1413 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
As the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently clarified, Park County Resource Council v. United States Dept. of Agriculture, 817 F.2d 609 (10th Cir. 1987) does not excuse the BLM from its obligation to analyze these consequences prior to leasing. Pennaco Energy, Inc. v. United States Dept. of the Interior, 377 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th Cir. 2004). Park County may allow the agency to forego preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement if and when it has prepared an extensive environmental assessment covering the leases in question. This, however, is not the case; the November 2008 parcels appear to have had no NEPA documentation prepared for them save out-of-date RMP documents that do not and cannot account for significant new developments and information that has become available since 1988—including increased recreational demand, greatly increased levels of mineral development, and declining populations of Gunnison sage-grouse and new scientific information regarding the species’ vulnerability to adverse effects from mineral development.
1. The BLM Must Analyze New Scientific Information and Legal Developments
Not Available at the Time of the 1988 Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan
The 1988 RMP for the Uncompahgre Basin states that “the oil and gas program within this planning area is highly speculative . . . the BLM does not foresee any change in the oil and gas program over the life of this plan” (Uncompahgre Basin Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, 143 (1988)). The proposed leasing of five new parcels in the planning area directly contravenes the statement in the RMP. Leasing in the area is no longer speculative, but has become a concrete reality. In the 20 years that have elapsed since the RMP was drafted, there have been many changes to the oil and gas development landscape in the Uncompahgre resource area:
The entire San Miguel Basin population area is classified as having high potential for oil and gas development (BLM 1999; GSRSC 2005)). Natural gas exploration in the San Miguel Basin has increased in recent months (CDOW, unpubl. lit. 2005g), with 49 percent of the current range on public and private land with Federal leases for gas development (BLM, unpubl. lit. 2005f). As a general practice, all currently unleased BLM lands within the current sage-grouse range in the San Miguel Basin are being deferred for oil and gas leasing until completion of the Resource Management Plans (RMPs) covering the habitat for this population (anticipated in 2007 and 2008).
71 Fed. Reg. 19,967. This anticipated RMP revision has not yet been completed. Nevertheless, contrary to the USFWS’s 2006 discussion, the current lease sale proposes not to defer leasing of Gunnison sage-grouse production areas within San Miguel County.
Our concerns with the NEPA documents available for this area are not limited to the changes in the oil and gas development picture in the Uncompahgre area. In fact, when the RMP was drafted, the Gunnison sage-grouse had not yet been identified as a unique species. In 2000, the American Ornithologist’s union accepted the Gunnison sage-grouse as a species distinct from the Greater sage-grouse. 71 Fed. Reg. 19,955. Since the Gunnison sage-grouse was identified, the population of the species has declined, with the San Miguel population estimated at only 334 in 2005. 71 Fed. Reg. 19,959. Oil and gas development negatively impacts Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and therefore populations, as discussed above.
According to recent CDOW testimony presented to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regarding oil and gas impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse:
Infrastructure associated with oil and gas development (e.g., buildings, compressor stations, power lines, roads, etc.) near sage-grouse leks causes habitat loss and may cause loss of active nests and young broods, as well as indirectly causing disruption, displacement, or reduced survival of males and females year-round. There has been a widespread decline in both greater and Gunnison sage-grouse distribution and abundance range-wide and in Colorado (Schroeder et al. 2004; CDOW 2005, 2008).
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Research in Montana and Wyoming in coal-bed natural gas and deep-well fields suggests that impacts to leks from energy development are discernable out to a minimum of 4 miles, and that some leks within this radius have been extirpated as a direct result of energy development (Holloran 2005, Walker et al. 2007a). Data from areas with coal-bed natural gas development indicates that the BLM’s current 0.25-mile buffer lease stipulation is insufficient to maintain breeding sage-grouse populations in areas with full coal-bed natural gas development (Walker et al. 2007a). A 0.25-mi. buffer leaves 98% of the landscape within 2 miles open to energy development. In a typical landscape in the Powder River Basin, 98% coal-bed natural gas development within 2 miles of leks was projected to reduce the average probability of lek persistence from 87% to 5% (Walker et al. 2007a). Only 38% of 26 leks inside of coal-bed natural gas development remained active compared to 84% of 250 leks outside of development (Walker et al. 2007). Of leks that persisted, the numbers of attending males were reduced by approximately 50% when compared to those outside of coal-bed natural gas development (Walker et al. 2007a).
A restricted surface occupancy buffer of 0.6 miles is largely designed to protect only breeding males and females during the breeding season when birds congregate around leks, and represents a bare minimum size for protecting sage-grouse breeding populations from impacts of energy development. For example, full-field coal-bed natural gas development with a no-surface-occupancy buffer of 0.6 mi. was projected to result in probability of only 14% that the lek would remain active, compared to 85% in the absence of development (Walker 2008). The size of no-surface-occupancy buffers required to protect breeding populations may be underestimated because leks in energy development have fewer males per lek and a time lag occurs (average ~4 years) between development and when leks go inactive (Holloran 2005, Walker et al. 2007a). A 0.6 mile restricted surface occupancy buffer leaves approximately 97% of nesting habitat within 4 miles open to energy development (0.6 mile lek buffers are unlikely to overlap because few leks are that close to other leks) and would protect only 13-23% of habitat for nesting females around leks (<45 of 340 nests in Wyoming, Holloran and Anderson 2005; 118 of 518 nests in NW Colorado, CDOW data). Similarly, data from conventional deep gas fields suggest that male lek attendance (an index of local breeding population size) begins to decline once active development is within approximately 4 miles (6.2 km) (Holloran 2005).
Data from coal-bed natural gas fields suggest that restricted surface occupancy buffers around leks may need to be larger than 0.6 mile (e.g., 1-2 miles) for the probability that a lek remains active to exceed 30%, assuming full-field development outside that buffer (Walker 2008). Although effects of energy development remain largely unknown in Colorado, if they are similar to those observed in Wyoming, maintaining a bare minimum level of protection using a 0.6-mile restricted surface occupancy buffer around leks is extremely important.
Before the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the State of Colorado, Cause 1R, Docket No. 803-RM-02, Testimony of Colorado Division of Wildlife Staff (Brett L. Walker and Richard Kahn) Regarding Restricted Surface Occupancy Areas 1 (April 18, 2008).
This information about the necessary buffer zones to protect sage-grouse was not known at the time the Uncompahgre RMP was drafted, and therefore that document does not contain adequate protections for the Gunnison sage-grouse (not yet even formally classified as a separate taxon). The 1988 RMP does not mention sage-grouse at all, even the then-known Greater sage-grouse. Because of this inadequacy, the BLM should not rely on the RMP to meet the requirements of NEPA documentation. The RMP is clearly insufficient to constitute the requisite “hard look” as required under NEPA and Overton Park since it does not account for current information about Gunnison sage-grouse.
The Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan reiterates the suggestions of the CDOW. The BLM is directed to “delineate and field validate GUSG seasonal habitats,” to implement a NSO stipulation within 0.6 mile radius of active leks, and to evaluate “[s]pecific mitigation and exception criteria” to be “attached to the lease as stipulations upon issuance.” Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan 237-38 (2005). There are further Suggested Management Practices (SMPs) contained in the Rangewide Conservation Plan, including that impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse should be minimized through measures similar to those outlined above, as well as inclusion of a lease notice that “This lease may require a full development plan as determined by an interdisciplinary team.” Id. at Appendix L. The BLM has not taken these actions with respect to the parcels protested herein.
The stipulations that are currently contained in the “Notice of Competitive Lease Sale, Oil and Gas” do not adequately protect the Gunnison sage-grouse production areas contained within these five parcels. Exhibit CO-34, discussed above, does not include restrictions on surface occupancy. Under the current rangewide conservation plan, in Gunnison sage-grouse production areas, a 0.6 mile no surface occupancy (NSO) buffer around leks should be observed. Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan 236 (2005) (“On federal lands or areas with federal mineral rights, apply a lease stipulation of NSO (no surface occupancy) within 0.6
(6/10ths) mile radius of active leks, for new leases.”)
One parcel, COC-73265, was amended to recognize sage-grouse habitat (see BLM’s Notice of Addendum #2 (2008)), but the parcel still has acreage within known Gunnison sage-grouse production areas. Not only are there no NSO restrictions on the proposed leases, there aren’t any proposed timing restrictions of any kind on surface occupancy, either by season or by distance, as recommended by the CDOW and conservation plan.
It is also essential to note that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s not warranted decision for the Gunnison sage-grouse acknowledged adverse impacts from oil and gas development, but relied heavily on BLM deferral of leasing to conclude that these impacts will not imperil Gunnison sage-grouse:
In summary, some Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is in areas with high potential for oil and gas development, particularly in the San Miguel Basin. A few studies on greater sage-grouse reported population declines in response to oil and gas development (Braun et al. 2002; Lyon and Anderson 2003), although specific causes for the declines were not determined. A recent study of greater sage-grouse in Wyoming found that as oil and gas development increased (Holloran 2005). Negative impacts to active leks extended to a distance of 5 km (3 mi) from an active drilling rig. Similarly, juvenile male recruitment to impacted leks also fell.
Nesting females avoided areas with high well densities, although site fidelity to
previous nesting locations may result in delayed population response to the habitat changes associated with development. While some birds were displaced by the disturbance, Holloran (2005) also found that many sage-grouse discontinued breeding attempts, and others died at a higher rate than birds from unaffected areas. He concluded that natural gas field development
contributes to localized greater sage-grouse extirpations, but that regional populations levels, although negatively impacted, are not as severely influenced.
Application of these impacts from gas development to the San Miguel and
Crawford populations and Monticello group could threaten their long-term
persistence. However, the immediate threat to Gunnison sage-grouse is
curtailed by BLM lease deferments. Additionally, available information
suggests that economic infeasibility of extraction will act to minimize the
likelihood this development will occur at a significant enough level to imperil
71 Fed. Reg. 19,967 (emphasis added). Leasing of parcels COC 73264, COC 73265, COC 73266, COC 73267, COC 73268, absent adequate safeguards in place to ensure protection of Gunnison sage-grouse protection areas in San Miguel county, would contradict both the assumption of the FWS’s finding and the recommendations of the 2005 Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan signed by the BLM.
2. BLM Should Defer Leasing of Important Gunnison Sage-Grouse Habitats
Pending Completion of the State of Colorado’s Rulemaking Process
Additionally, we request that, as a matter of discretion, the BLM defer leasing of areas that contain Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, pending the final adoption of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s Draft Rule 1209.b.(3), Restricted Surface Occupancy for 0.6 miles of any Greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse, and lesser prairie chicken leks (strutting and booming grounds). The rule was provisionally adopted on September 23, and therefore it would be unwise for the BLM to issue leases on these parcels, in light of a pending rule and consultation process governing oil and gas development in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. While we recognize that the BLM has questioned the applicability of these rules to federal surface, we strongly recommend that the BLM, rather than inviting conflict by issuing leases with differing stipulations, consider incorporation of the pending state standards into the terms of federal leases. Rather than rushing into these leases, the BLM should, as a matter of sound policy, defer the issuance of new leases in important Gunnison sage-grouse habitat until such time as this rule becomes final, thereby minimizing the adverse impacts the development of oil and gas resources would have.
III. PARCELS COC 73279 AND 73281: COLORADO RIVER CUTTHROAT TROUT WATERS
Parcels COC 73279 and 73281 contains lands within 300’ of waters supporting BLM sensitive species Colorado River Cutthroat Trout. Colorado River cutthroat trout (“CRCT”) historically occupied portions of the Colorado River drainage in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Its current distribution is now restricted to isolated headwaters and streams, and CRCT now occupies somewhere between 1% and 14% of its historic range. See generally CRCT Conservation Team. 2006. Conservation Agreement for Colorado River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) in the States of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Colorado Division of Wildlife, Fort Collins (“CRCT Cons. Ag.”). The CRCT is classified as a special status species in Colorado by the State of Colorado (CDOW), the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. Id. at 3. Those entities, along with others signed the CRCT Conservation Agreement in 2006, to “expedite implementation of conservation measures for [CRCT] … as a collaborative and cooperative effort among resource agencies.” Id. at 1. Through implementation of the CRCT Conservation Agreement, the agencies intended to eliminate or reduce threats to the CRCT that might eventually cause the species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. Id.
The CRCT Conservation Agreement was signed in 2006. The CRCT Conservation Agreement states among its goals: “To assure the long-term viability of CRCT throughout their historic range” and provides that areas that “currently support CRCT will be maintained.” CRCT Cons. Ag. at 3. Its stated objectives include securing and enhancing watershed conditions and “[m]aximizing effectiveness of CRCT conservation efforts by coordinating signatory efforts toward achieving” the agreement’s goals. Id. at 4. By signing the CRCT Conservation Agreement, BLM and the Forest Service agreed “to ensure the implementation of those conservation actions identified in the [CRCT Conservation] Strategy.” Id.
Lease stipulations for COC 73279 and 73281, however, limit protection for waters and riparian habitat to exhibit CO-28, for the purpose of “To protect perennial water impoundments and streams, and/or riparian/wetland vegetation by moving oil and gas exploration and development beyond the riparian vegetation zone.” Avoiding riparian vegetation only is inconsistent with the CRCT Conservation strategy’s recommendation to “manage the entire watershed”: “Impacts outside the riparian zone should be considered as part of CRCT management. Land management agencies should work to mitigate adverse impacts of watershed activities on water quality, instream habitat, channel morphology, riparian areas, and population stability.” CRCT Conservation Strategy 18 (June 2006). Newer BLM and other analyses take into account the potential adverse impacts from oil and gas operations on watersheds and impose buffer zones beyond immediate riparian vegetation:
A wide variety of industrial chemicals are commonly used or produced on drilling pads or recovered and stored in pits for eventual disposal. Many of the chemical formulations are of a proprietary nature and manufacturers are unwilling to reveal the constituents of the additives. Two recent incidents in Garden Gulch resulted in the release of acetone, and Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, and Xylenes (BTEX) plus several other chemicals to a spring fed drainage. With the increased pace of permitting and development in Colorado’s oil, gas, and oil shale fields, spills and releases similar in nature to the Garden Gulch incident will increase in number.
The chemical constituents of some materials released from oil and gas development related incidents are injurious to aquatic life. In a study of fish sensitivity to petroleum, Moles et al. (1979) investigated the sensitivity of Alaskan freshwater and anadromous fishes to Prudhoe Bay crude oil and benzene. Salmonids (chinook, coho, pink, sockeye salmon; arctic char, Dolly Varden) were consistently found to be the most sensitive species when tested with the water-soluble fraction of Prudhoe Bay crude oil and benzene. Threespine sticklebacks were the most tolerant, and slimy sculpins were similar to salmonids in sensitivity. Median tolerance limits of the six salmonid species tested for benzene ranged from 11.7 to 14.7 μl/liter. Static tests were used to simulate an oil spill and most deaths were found to occur within the first 12 hours. This rapid mortality of fish exposed to aromatic hydrocarbons has been noted by other researchers (Pickering and Henderson 1966; Benville and Korn 1977; Morrow 1974; Rice et al. 1977) and serves to highlight the importance of immediate spill reporting and rapid agency response to investigate spill effects.
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The White River National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision (ROD, 1993) provides No Surface Occupancy (NSO) Stipulations for Gold Medal fisheries to protect water quality and the recreational opportunities provided by the fisheries. The ROD also provides NSO stipulations (350’ either side of the stream) for Colorado River cutthroat waters and a NSO Timing stipulation that prohibits exploration, drilling, and development activity from June 1 through October 1 for stream tributaries.
The State of Wyoming considers pit placement sites as “critical areas” if they are located “…within five hundred feet (500') of wetlands, ponds, lakes, perennial drainages or within a floodplain;..” Chapter 1. Section 2. (kk) of Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission rules.
The ROD for the Interim Strategies for Managing Anadromous Fish-producing Watersheds in Eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, and Portions of California (USFS 1995) provides 300’ Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas on either side of fish bearing streams.
Before the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the State of Colorado, Cause 1R, Docket No. 803-RM-02, Testimony of Colorado Division of Wildlife Staff (Sherman Hebein and Richard Kahn) Regarding Restricted Surface Occupancy Areas 39-41 (April 18, 2008).
By contrast, the 1985 San Juan RMP was amended to address oil and gas leasing in 1991, and does not take into account newly available information regarding Colorado River cutthroat trout conservation. Leases should not issue within these watersheds absent adequate analysis and protective stipulations to ensure sensitive native fishes will not be adversely affected by releases, erosion, sedimentation, or other effects of new oil and gas development.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation respectfully request that the BLM defer all of the parcels listed on the first page of this Protest from the November 13, 2008, lease sale.
James Lamb Paris Lumb
Michael A. Saul, Associate Counsel
National Wildlife Federation
2260 Baseline Road, Suite 100
on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife