Colorado's Little Snake plan restores balance between land protection and energy development

Aug 13, 2010

CRAIG, CO — A long awaited Resource Management Plan (RMP) for a treasured portion of Northwest Colorado was released today. The Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office (LSFO) released the final proposal following years of input from local stakeholders, unbiased scientists and economists, and their own internal studies. This plan will lay out the future of public lands in the region, including oil and gas development, off-road vehicle use, safeguarding imperiled sage-grouse, preliminary Wild and Scenic River protection for the Yampa, and other critical management decisions.

“The Little Snake area embodies the essence of the American West—wide open spaces, healthy wildlife populations and wild rivers,” said Soren Jespersen, Northwest Colorado Wildlands Coordinator with The Wilderness Society. “Hunting and fishing also contribute over $1.8 billion to Colorado’s economy, including an estimated 21,000 full-time jobs. This is especially true in Moffat County where wildlife-related activities such as big game hunting bring in over $31 million a year and provides for over 4% of the total jobs in the county. BLM’s plan helps protect this industry, and the lands that attracted many of us here in the first place, by fostering a more balanced approach to wildlife habitat management.”

Key components of the plan include:

  • The BLM will set aside Vermillion Basin as the “Vermillion Basin Protective Management Area”. Vermillion Basin is one of the west’s most spectacular landscapes, yet until today was unprotected. 77,000 acres will be managed to protect its wilderness character and will be closed to all oil and gas development.
  • However, approximately 90% of the 2.4 million acres of oil and gas supplies administered by the Little Snake field office are still available for leasing and development. There is no shortage of lands to develop in this field office and there is also room for plan to accommodate the additional improvements needed to protect wildlife and wilderness values.
  • While Vermillion Basin does see new protections in this plan, other unique landscapes with outstanding wilderness characteristics were left unprotected. Citizens’ Proposed Wilderness at Pinyon Ridge, additions for Cross Mountain and Diamond Breaks, and portions of Yampa Canyon are unprotected and open to potentially degrading activities like off-road vehicle use and oil and gas drilling.
  • The plan finds three segments of the Yampa River eligible and suitable for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers system. These 22 miles of the Yampa River provide outstanding recreation and fishing opportunities. By finding these segments suitable for WSR protection, the BLM would manage them to protect their free-flowing condition and the values that make them such an important local experience .

“Vermillion Basin is a window into the past,” said Luke Schafer, Northwest Campaign Coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “The BLM has provided the opportunity to make sure that our grandchildren are able to enjoy wild places as we have. The fact that Moffat County contains over 270,000 acres of Citizens’ Proposed Wilderness in Colorado highlights the importance of these rugged landscapes in the area; and the fact that places like Vermillion Basin, Diamond Breaks and Cross Mountain are recognized and safeguarded as wild places shows that the BLM is committed to making sure they can be enjoyed by future generations, too.”

The Wilderness Society, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Center for Native Ecosystems and other conservation partners have participated in the development of the RMP at every stage. The draft RMP first released in 2007 under the Bush Administration would have opened up 93% of the resource area to potential development, including 100% of Vermillion Basin—the crown jewel of Northwestern Colorado, and a place that Governor Ritter has stated should be preserved for future generations.

The lands managed by the LSFO contain some of the highest quality wildlife habitat and wildlands that Colorado has to offer. It is home to the at-risk sage-grouse and white-tailed prairie dogs as well raptors, rare plants, endangered fish species, and the elk, mule deer, and antelope herds that attract hunters from all of the country. Included within this is acreage are around 270,000 acres of proposed wilderness.

"Sage grouse are at the cross-roads,” said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Center for Native Ecosystems. “The decline of this western icon tells us that our ecosystems are in trouble. Across the West we’ve seen land management thrown out of balance in favor of development. While this plan takes some steps forward, it stops short of the serious effort the BLM needs to make in northwest Colorado if we are going to stop the sage-grouse's downward slide.”