Hunters, anglers protest energy leases in North Park | SkyHiNews.com

Hunters, anglers protest energy leases in North Park

JUDITH KOHLER
Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) – A coalition of hunters and anglers says a protest of proposed federal oil and gas leases in a wildlife-rich part of north-central Colorado is an opportunity for the Obama administration to follow through on a pledge for greater scrutiny of leasing on public land.

The groups have filed a protest with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the plan to take bids on about 11,400 acres in its May 13 auction in Denver.

The 14 disputed parcels northwest of Walden are in the middle of migration routes for elk, mule deer and pronghorns and are home to moose, fisheries and sage grouse breeding grounds, the groups said.

The area is in North Park, a roughly 8,000-foot-high valley that’s nearly encircled by mountains and encompasses the 24,800-acre Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and headwaters of the North Platte River.

“It’s kind of like the Serengeti of Colorado, as far as wildlife goes,” said Bill Dvorak, a longtime hunting and fishing guide in the area and member of the National Wildlife Federation.

BLM spokesman Jim Sample declined to comment Wednesday on the protest because the agency is still reviewing it.

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Conservation groups welcomed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement in January of policy changes in leasing public lands, said Steve Belinda of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Salazar said the changes would strengthen environmental standards and provide more clarity for energy companies.

“Yet, for the time being,” Belinda said, “we find ourselves left with no choice but to continue to protest individual leases because these promised changes have not been implemented.”

The hunting and angling groups and state wildlife officials have urged the BLM to rewrite its management plan for the area, which is close to the Wyoming border, before approving any new oil and gas leases. The plan was originally approved in 1984 and has been updated through the years.

“A 20-year-old document couldn’t factor in the number of wells that are being talked about,” said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The state agency’s concerns include potential effects on sage grouse, whose decline in numbers across the West has prompted conservation groups to push for federal protection of the chicken-sized bird.

The BLM withdrew offers of leases on some parcels after the Division of Wildlife weighed in, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many were yanked.

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