On January 18, 2024, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved its Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan. Here is the BLM press release. BLM’s last plan for this area was issued in 1996. CWF has worked on gaining a plan for South Park since 2012. CWF is gratified that South Park is treated separately within the overall plan. We firmly believe this is because CWF and partners began working toward this outcome before the formal planning process began. Below is the CWF press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: January 18, 2024
Contact: Suzanne O’Neill
Colorado Wildlife Federation Applauds BLM for Protecting South Park’s Wildlife, Setbacks from Streams in New Resource Management Plan
Bureau of Land Management Releases New and Improved Resource Management Plan to Protect Wildlife Habitat
(Denver, Colorado) – Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Royal Gorge Field Office released its final decision (ROD) on a new Resource Management Plan for the Eastern Colorado planning area (ECRMP). The ROD announces long-awaited improvements for federal lands in the region that will provide decades of protection for important fish, wildlife, water, and recreation resources.
Of note, the plan will help to ensure that South Park – a beautiful high-mountain grassland valley in central Colorado with abundant wildlife is protected from harmful development activities, including poor siting of oil and gas drilling. It is also the source of drinking water for many in Denver and Aurora. For several years, a coalition of local stakeholders, including the Colorado Wildlife Federation, water providers, Park County and others have collaborated with agency officials on a series of specific protections for South Park that BLM’s plan incorporates.
“I am gratified that, after years of collaboration among the local community, government leaders, and other stakeholders, the Bureau of Land Management has taken decisive action to safeguard one of Colorado’s most important landscapes. South Park is home to critical natural and cultural resources, including habitat for elk, pronghorn, deer, bighorn sheep, and greenback cutthroat trout. This new resource management plan will ensure that the big game corridors, sensitive wildlife habitats, and drinking water sources that Coloradans depend on are protected from poor siting of oil and gas drilling for years to come,” said Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
“All of our partners worked diligently and focused on all the resources that are important to both the residents of Park County and those who use and cherish all that it has to offer. From day one we formed a coalition to reach the South Park portion of this Resource Management Plan. Thanks goes out to the Park County Coalition members and also to the BLM staff who spent many hours to balance resource development and resource protection,” said Tom Eisenmann, Park County Manager.
The BLM’s decision reflects the coalition’s priorities and improves greatly the previous resource management plan of 1996. The RMP closes 36,700 acres of federal lands and minerals in South Park to future oil and gas leasing that have low, very low, or no oil and gas potential, and includes high-level surface disturbance protections for an additional 73,100 acres to protect gold medal trout streams, public water supplies, state wildlife areas and parks, and other sensitive values. Red Hill was added as a Backcountry Conservation Area (to Rye Slough). Another welcome safeguard is the increased prohibition of surface occupancy from 0.25 mile to 0.33 mile from state wildlife areas, parks, and conservation easements.
“This plan balances the needs of energy development with conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and represents the culmination of more than eight years of hard work and collaboration with BLM, local communities, and partner organizations. Trout Unlimited is particularly encouraged by oil and gas setbacks from Gold Medal fishing waters and native cutthroat trout streams, which represent some of the best habitat and fishing opportunities in the state of Colorado,” said Jay Chancellor, Trout Unlimited Colorado Advocacy Campaigns Manager.
“The attention to the South Park region in the proposed Resource Management Plan is notable. Protecting South Park is an important part of Rocky Mountain Wild’s mission to protect biodiversity in our region. More than 115 rare or imperiled plant and animal species are documented in South Park and nearly 50 of them are considered globally significant,” said Alison Gallensky, Conservation Geographer at Rocky Mountain Wild.
The ECRMP will prohibit surface occupancy and use for oil and gas activities within 1,312 feet of the high-water mark of South Platte River, South and Middle Forks of the South Platte River, water bodies containing or designated for introduction of native cutthroat trout, and within 2,641 feet of Gold Medal streams, rivers, and reservoirs. It also will protect drinking water through surface occupancy prohibitions within 1000 feet for 5 miles upstream of a public supply intake, surface water, and reservoirs. In addition, the plan will prohibit surface occupancy for oil and gas activities within 500 feet of streams (perennial, ephemeral, and intermittent), lakes, reservoirs, springs, playas, wetlands (including fens) or other riparian areas, measured from ordinary high-water mark or within 100-year floodplain, whichever distance is greater.
These provisions are essential for protecting cutthroat trout and other aquatic species, and preventing oil and gas leasing in sensitive areas like big game migration corridors, largely unfragmented winter ranges, and calving grounds, and protecting a substantial portion of drinking water supplies for Denver and Aurora.