Rich in resources, arguments, the BLM finds confrontation

Several hundred people packed the bureau's open house in Grand Junction las Thursday evening to take a look at alternatives put forward in the new draft Resource Management Plan for the Grand Junciton field office.

The Daily Sentinel by Jim Spehar

Pity the poor ol' Bureau of Land Management. Or not, depending upon your perspective.

If "stuff" flows downhill, the federal agency is at the bottom of a very long drainage with no indication that the flow will cease any time soon. here's just some of what's rushing downhill in the direction of the BLM in western Colorado.

Several hundred people packed the bureau's open house in Grand Junction last Thursday evening to take a look at alternatives put forward in the new draft Resource Management Plan for the Grand Junction field office. Another meeting in Fruita later this week will likely draw a similar crowd.

Up in the North Fork, a fairly tone-deaf response by agency officials, most notably by State Director Helen Hankins at a public meeting, has only exacerbated the debate over proposed gas leasing in an area of organic farms and its vineyards, but also a primary coal mining area.

Near Glenwood Springs, there's ongoing controversy over proposed drilling on the the Thompson Divide. And a court-ordered fresh look at leasing plans for the Roan Plateau has both sides of that argument readying for a new battle.

In the Piceance Basin, the revised oil and gas plan for the BLM's northwest field office is drawing criticism for significantly overstating deer numbers in what biologists and sportsmen call the "deer factory" that, along with exploration and production, is an important component of the area's economy.

Both the BLM and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are criticized for lack of staff devoted to inspection of wells to assure compliance with regulations

The latest go-round of oil shale activity adds to the controversy, with the BLM well past state deadlines for releasing both revised leasing regulations and a new environmental review ordered by soon-to-depart Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. There are pre-emptive protests filed by Garfield County and others, a likely indication that when the announcements come there'll be still another battle in the courts.

The Denver Post reported recently that the BLM is in the process of creating eight new plans covering most of western Colorado to replace many plans now a quarter-century old. Also, BLM figures show 85 percent of the acreage proposed for leasing in Colorado last year was subject to formal protest, far more than in neighboring states.

There's a reason for that. As Jacques Cousteau once said, "People protect what they love."

And there are several reasons, at least for the controversies and protests. They include an agency conflicted by different responsibilities to both preserve and manage for multiple use all these various battlegrounds. But it is an agency sometimes hidebound by a "rules is rules" mentality, an oft-demonstrated inability to communicate effectively with its constituencies and the necessity to ride the roller coaster of priorities that change with political administrations, if not more frequently.

There's the tendency, not just in the environmental community, to fire public-relations shots across a landscape full of confused folks just wanting to make a living while still being able to hunt, fish, boat and camp with some measure of hte solitude expected in the great outdoors. In the end, both sides often rely on legal challenges that furhter confuse and anger a public increasingly frustrated by deadlock and argument and instead looking for collaboration and consensus.

"The shaft of the arrow has been feathered with one of the eagle's own plumes," Aesop said in one of his fables. The late Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen said, "We need to develop a political culture of neighbors who need to get along rather than a culture of interest groups that need to be confrontational."

Former President Lyndon Johnson put i more colorfully: "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."

I was lucky enough to sit by one of those "good carpenters" last Thursday. Longtime rancher Oscar Massey said he'd attended more than 60 meetings last year regarding various efforts that might affect his livelihood. A lesson to be learned, I suspect, by many of those in the room, whether concerned about off-road routes, energy development or land protection or wilderness but attending their first meeting.

More carpenters and less confrontation would serve these BLM processes well.