Energy leases offered on prized North Park wildlife habitat
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) – Federal oil and gas leases in a northern Colorado mountain valley prized by hunters and anglers are going up for bid.
The Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management planned to offer leases on about 11,400 acres on public land during its quarterly auction Thursday in Denver. The parcels were among nearly 19,000 acres being offered across the state to companies wanting to drill for oil and natural gas.
The BLM withdrew thousands of acres in northern Colorado from the auction after considering state wildlife officials’ concerns about the potential impact on sage grouse, whose numbers have dropped across the West.
That’s not good enough, said John Gale, a regional representative of the National Wildlife Federation, one of several hunting and angling groups formally protesting leasing the land. The BLM won’t issue leases until it rules on the protests.
“This is some of the most biologically rich wildlife habitat in the state,” Gale said Wednesday.
The area is in North Park, a roughly 8,000-foot-high valley nearly encircled by mountains and encompassing the 24,800-acre Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and headwaters of the North Platte River.
A coalition of groups that filed protests with the BLM says the area is in the middle of migration routes for elk, mule deer and pronghorns and are home to moose, fisheries and sage grouse breeding grounds.
The area is also no stranger to energy development, BLM spokesman Steven Hall said.
“Oil and gas development has been going on in North Park since 1925,” Hall said.
Permits have been issued for roughly 230 wells on private and federal land in North Park, and 107 wells have been drilled, according to BLM figures.
Hall said the BLM withdrew proposed leases in the area after conferring closely with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Some of the parcels pulled from the auction had sage grouse on them.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has deemed the chicken-sized bird worthy of federal protection, but hasn’t added it to the endangered species list because of higher priorities.
The BLM imposes restrictions on drillers in North Park to protect other wildlife during birthing seasons, Hall said.
Still, conservation groups have questioned the wisdom of approving more development in an area that is managed by a plan written in 1984. They say a 26-year-old plan is inadequate for current conditions.
The plan hasn’t just been sitting on a shelf, Hall said. It has been updated and amended through the years.
Conservation groups, however, believe some places are just not appropriate for drilling and all the roads and facilities that go along with energy development. They point to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s pledge to more closely scrutinize leasing of public lands.
“I have strong personal feelings about maintaining the integrity and heritage of Western landscapes because of the way my family has been able to enjoy public lands,” Gale said. “I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and say I did everything I could to make sure it’s done right.”
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