Federal lands comprise over one-third of the State of Colorado. Over 8 million acres are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These lands are important for grazing, mineral rights, utilities, roads, recreation and wildlife. While Congress has mandated that these lands be managed for multiple uses, the BLM is issuing new draft Resource Management Plan (RMPs) that signal BLM lands could be closed for business.
RMPs guide and define management actions, future land use decisions and project-specific analyses on some 250 million acres of BLM lands in the West. BLM justifies the significant revisions to its existing RMPs due to "new issues and higher levels of controversy" since the original plans were prepared. More than 15 RMPs are currently under revision in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.
In Colorado, BLM has issued new drafts for its Colorado River Valley and Kremmling Field Offices. Some of these RMPs approach 2,000 pages with 50 pages of new restrictions and 5 pages of acronyms and abbreviations. The draft RMPs are also draft environmental impacts statement (DEISs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The drafts would include: less land available for mineral leasing; significantly increased buffers around sage habitat; de facto wilderness; significantly increased buffers around raptors and eagles; new restrictions for prairie dogs, amphibians, fish and recreation; buffers around streams and water supplies; timing limitations for stream crossings; new cultural restrictions and tribal consultation requirements; onerous air quality standards and severe restrictions on mechanized travel and right-of-ways.
Some BLM wildlife restrictions go far beyond the legal standards required. For example, there are now restrictions for sensitive fish species that occur only downstream and outside of the planning areas. Timing limitations for in-channel work (i.e. road crossings, pipelines or culverts) are proposed for "native fish" and "important sport fish." BLM intends to "designate" lands with wilderness characteristics and, much like EPA's controversial guidance on wetlands, proposes to regulate activities in and around riparian areas and even intermittent streams.
Even more disturbing are BLM's proposed restrictions on access to public lands. BLM now mandates areas open to cross-country travel or "Open to Existing Routes" should instead be "Limited to Designated Routes." This simple change places millions of acres off limits to mechanized travel.
For example, in the Kremmling draft, BLM cross-country travel would be slashed from 307,300 acres to only 200 acres. Thousands of acres would also be designated Right-of-way Avoidance Areas and Right-of-way Exclusion Areas. No Surface Occupancy stipulations would increase tenfold and Controlled Surface Use constraints would double.
Citing impacts from agriculture and energy development, environmental groups have been pushing to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for years. Despite over 300 documented conservation efforts in place, the U.S. Department of the Interior determined listing the greater sage grouse was warranted but precluded by higher priorities in 2010. Ironically, in some of the RMPs, BLM recognizes that sagebrush habitat is largely intact and that there is little threat of fragmentation. They also recognize significant increases in moose, antelope, mule deer and elk populations since the last RMP revisions. Adding fuel to the fire, the BLM, and several other federal agencies, are now intruding on Colorado and proposing to regulate oil and gas despite decades of successful state regulation.
The draft RMPs are incredibly complex and onerous. In some cases, they lack significant information and failed to include key documents, descriptions and data necessary for informed public review and comment. Where BLM analyzed economics, its figures were inconsistent and contradictory. As a result, BLM has created a jigsaw puzzle of conflicting regulations and contradictory assumptions. The underlying theme implies BLM lands will be closed for business.
The outcome of these issues could affect Coloradans for decades to come. Please consider contacting your congressional delegations to urge BLM to keep the public lands open for business. Rather than rushing to new restrictions, these issues should be thoroughly analyzed and vetted in an open public process.