The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. The BLM's management plan for the region would allow for energy development near this prized national park.
The BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office issued a final plan today that could have balanced a number of issues, ranging from wilderness-quality lands to oil and gas leasing to protection of remarkable cultural artifacts, including those at Mesa Verde National Park.
“Public comments, and input from county and state leaders called for more protection of our shared natural and cultural resources,” said Juli Slivka, planning specialist with The Wilderness Society. “The BLM could have done much more for places like Mesa Verde National Park but instead they are opening lands directly adjacent to the national park to oil and gas leasing without any measures in place to address the potential impacts on the park. There are many tools at the BLM’s disposal that could have helped them demonstrate a commitment to balancing conservation and energy development while properly managing wilderness-quality lands. Those tools weren’t used.”
Under a policy introduced by the Department of Interior in 2011, the BLM is directed to identify and consider managing wilderness-quality lands for conservation purposes by focusing on naturalness, opportunities for quiet recreation and other values. More than 60,000 acres of land have been documented as meeting the agency’s criteria for lands with wilderness characteristics, and thousands of acres more also likely qualify; however, the Tres Rios RMP will only protect 11,800 acres of these lands for their wilderness values – 2% of the public lands in the Tres Rios area. In contrast, 92% of the area will be open to oil and gas leasing.
“BLM should ensure that our nation’s resources are managed with respect for public input and in a way that fulfills the public’s trust. Coloradans have repeatedly shown that we value conservation, wilderness, clean air, and clean water,” said Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “This flawed management plan indicates that the Tres Rios Field Office has ignored key BLM conservation policies and the public’s desires.”
The plan shows a great imbalance in how the agency is managing lands in the region. It’s imperative that the BLM change course before releasing additional resource management plans in Colorado to ensure that lands with wilderness characteristics are identified and protected. The BLM has many tools at its disposal for better managing these wildlands, and putting conservation on equal ground with development.
“As the lead permitting and management agency for fossil fuel development activities in southwest Colorado, the BLM’s Tres Rio Field Office has an obligation to require and enforce all possible measures to safeguard our sparkling waters, clean air and scenic views,” said Jimbo Buickerood, Public Lands Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “However, the final Resource Management Plan significantly fails to incorporate the thousands of public comments asking for specific protections for the values we hold to be near and dear, and instead delivers us a woefully inadequate document that requires neither the most current technology or best practices to protect these vital resources that are already challenged due to established industrial development.”