On July 7, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its long-awaited Proposed Resource Management Plan and final Environmental Impact Statement for the Eastern Colorado planning area. It covers the public lands it manages in South Park and in eastern Colorado. This includes surface lands and federal mineral estate.
The Proposed Resource Management Plan includes long-awaited improvements to land management in the region that will successfully balance energy development, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation management, and special designations such as areas of critical environmental concern.
“CWF has focused on South Park for many years, even before the formal planning process began in June 2015. Our coalition throughout the process has consisted of Park County, several conservation organizations, water providers and others. We appreciate that South Park has fared well in this plan. BLM has listened to years of public input and continued to address the unique resources of the South Park area with separate objectives and allowable uses. The agency has recognized this iconic basin’s distinctive largely unfragmented wildlife habitats, prized trout streams, water quality, and spectacular vistas. In addition, the plan’s treatment of the areas managed by BLM in eastern Colorado outside of South Park is much improved from the draft stage, said Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill.
“All of our partners worked diligently and focused on all of the resources that are important to both the residents of Park County and those that use and cherish all that it has to offer. From day one we formed a coalition to reach the South Park portion of this proposed Resource Management Plan. Thanks goes out to the BLM staff who spent many hours to balance resource development and resource protection,” said Park County Manager Tom Eisenman.
“I compliment Keith Berger and his office for their thoughtfulness in developing a resource management plan that has different goals for four distinct landscapes in Eastern Colorado plus separate fluid mineral development goals for South Park,” said Lynda James, a director of the Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District. “Beginning in the summer of 2015 through the final plan released in 2023, Berger and his office listened to local governments and state agencies plus nonprofit organizations and the public. One important outcome is much better protections for wildlife and water resources in Park County.”
“BLM included important stipulations in the ECRMP to protect seasonal habitats for species such as elk, bighorn sheep, and deer, which is crucial to those herds’ survival. The South Park Area is well known for its fish and wildlife populations and outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities, and TRCP supports BLM’s efforts to conserve key habitats while still allowing for responsible energy development,” said Liz Rose Colorado Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The Plan closes 36,700 surface-managed acres (from 2,500 acres in the draft) to future leasing that have low, very low, or no oil and gas potential, and an additional 34,000 acres of federal mineral estate (from 2,700 acres) that lack any oil and gas potential. Surface occupancy prohibitions from oil and gas development were added for the BLM-managed 4,400 acres of Reinecker Ridge to provide protection for the elk winter concentration area. Red Hill was added as a Back Country Area (to Rye Slough). Another welcome change is the increased prohibition of surface occupancy from 0.25 mile to 0.33 mile from state wildlife areas, parks, and conservation easements.
The PRMP 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.
“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.
A few recommendations to improve the South Park portion of the draft plan were not adopted. For example, the PRMP prohibits surface occupancy on 20,600 acres of surface-managed lands and 73,100 acres of federal mineral estate to safeguard the list of habitats and waters. The coalition had recommended the adoption of the “natural processes” alternative that would have prohibited surface occupancy on 53,400 surface acres and 152,400 acres of federal mineral estate to offer greater protection.
As to the other areas managed by BLM in eastern Colorado outside of South Park, BLM increased the areas of critical environmental concern from 69,600 acres to 101,400 acres, designated backcountry conservation areas, and will manage 3,600 acres to protect wilderness characteristics and 111,100 acres to maintain wilderness characteristics.
Before a record of decision may be signed, there are two more steps in the process: a 30-day protest period and the overlapping Governor’s 60-day consistency review.