Wildlife officials oppose local oil and gas lease sale | SkyHiNews.com

Wildlife officials oppose local oil and gas lease sale

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

One critter in particular has the Colorado Division of Wildlife defending local lands against the prospect of oil and gas development: the greater sage grouse.

Areas in Grand and Jackson counties are considered core areas for sage grouse, the bird that has a rather theatrical mating display where the male puffs himself up to look much larger than he is.

According to DOW spokesperson Randy Hampton, Grand and Jackson counties contain the last remaining habitat for grouse on lands that have not already been leased for oil and gas development.

Due to declining populations from loss of habitat, the greater sage grouse species was considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act around 2005.

“The Division of Wildlife has significant concerns regarding the proposed parcels in the November lease sales,” said Hampton.

Greater sage grouse and mule deer are the two primary species that could be impacted by Granby area lease sales currently being offered, DOW officials say.

“There’s significant research going on with sage grouse with the energy industry,” Hampton said. “We’re finding that there is a higher level of disturbance for sage grouse than previously believed.”

Sage grouse research in Colorado, which energy companies such as EnCana, Williams, Conoco-Phillips, and Chevron are helping to fund, is under way but not yet completed.

“Yet, the BLM is moving forward without some of the research, without fully anticipating the impacts,” Hampton said.

With a minimum sale for $2 per acre per year, the Bureau’s state office made an estimated $7 million to $8 million statewide last year in lease sales. Parcels offered for sale are nominated by oil and gas companies or members of the public, and many times lands are nominated but are never purchased.

Nominations are packaged every quarter and sent out to field offices where BLM staff decides whether they should be offered in accordance with that office’s resource management plan.

But the Bureau’s Kremmling personnel are using the environmental and socio-economic guidelines written in 1984 and updated in 1991. Although it is being revised again, area leaders worry that the BLM is using an outdated plan for its latest decisions.

The Kremmling office is one of four oil and gas lease offerings in Colorado about which the DOW is raising a red flag.

“Were specifically raising concerns in four different areas: North Park, Hot Sulphur Springs/Granby area, the Little Snake Resource area near Craig, and San Juan and San Miguel areas in southern Colorado,” Hampton said.

DOW officials have met with state leadership and have written comments to the BLM opposing the lease sales. But whether the DOW or the Department of Natural Resources will file an official protest by this Wednesday’s deadline is still unknown.

Meanwhile, Grand County commissioners and town managers and mayors are attempting to stave off future oil and gas development in the Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs area.

Leaders agreed to join in a “united front” on Monday in response to the BLM’s impending protest deadline ” 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The Bureau’s Kremmling Field Manager Dave Stout, Assistant Field Manager Dennis Gale and Land Use Planner Joe Stout attended Monday’s meeting in Granby to inform leaders about the potential sales.

Granby Mayor Ted Wang and county commissioners presented two draft letters to be faxed to the bureau’s state office to protest the nominations. Other communities intend to do the same.

Their intent is to point out how the oil and gas industry could impact tourism, sedimentation and debris in local watersheds and wildlife. Other considerations are how development would compound local problems with its incoming workforce, such as impacts to schools, medical facilities and workforce housing.

As far as protecting the rivers themselves, Joe Stout said the Kremmling office already deferred lands within one-fourth mile on either side of the Colorado River and Kinny Creek.

About 31,000 acres of local public lands are included in the Bureau of Land Management’s November 2007 quarterly oil and gas lease sale, with parcels packaged from about 70 acres to 2,000 acres. The auction for the lease sales is scheduled for Nov. 8, and according to the Kremmling field managers, can go on regardless of whether there is a protest.

If leases are sold, it ultimately will be up to the decision of the BLM’s state director on whether the sale might be deferred for another year. Stipulations on the lease can be applied after-the-fact to abate unforeseen environmental impacts, and the first year’s rental of the land can be refunded.

“Besides the philosophical reasons, there are economic reason why we should protect sage grouse,” Hampton said. If the bird is eventually listed under the Endangered Species Act, it could impact the rights of local ranch owners and animal grazing opportunities, he pointed out.

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