Proposed leasing threatens national monument and river nominated for protection

Dec 17, 2012
BLM leasing proposal could harm Dinosaur National Monument, Yampa River

Formal protests were filed by conservationists and community groups against the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to lease lands in the heart of one of Colorado’s vital eco-tourism regions.  In legal documents filed today, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Friends of the Yampa, called on Colorado BLM to protect lands around Dinosaur National Monument, lands along the Yampa River and other exceptionally wild and scenic lands from leasing by removing them from the scheduled February 2011 sale and future sales.

The lands in question are along the Yampa River just a few miles upstream of Dinosaur National Monument and situated in an area dominated by spectacular scenery provided by the Cross Mountain and Vale of Tears Wilderness Study Areas as well as the pastoral views of Lily Park.

“Leasing lands within shouting distance of Dinosaur National Monument and a segment of the Yampa River found suitable for Wild and Scenic River protection is ridiculous” said Kent Vertrees, a Yampa River guide and Friends of the Yampa board member. “BLM should be seeking out opportunities to enhance our outdoor recreation economy, not hurt it.”

Whitewater river rafting is extremely popular in Dinosaur National Monument and a river permit to do is one of the most sought out by river enthusiasts across the nation.  In 2012, over 9,000 boaters enjoyed the iconic river canyons of Dinosaur N.M., and those that were lucky enough to float the Yampa River started their trips just a short distance away from the acres proposed for lease.   Last year, National Park Service released a report that stated that Dinosaur National Monument supported a burgeoning eco-tourism industry with over 192,000 visitors spending $6.7 million in local businesses which supported 77 jobs in local communities.

“I’ve rafted Dinosaur National Monument and the Green and Yampa River for over 30 years as both an outfitter and private boater,” said Bill Dvorak of Dvorak River Expeditions, “BLM’s not just threatening a world class recreation resource, they’re also threatening the elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and other critters that take refuge there.”

The National Park Service has already concluded that leasing the Lily Park area is not compatible with existing commercial vehicle regulations and the overall goals and management of Dinosaur National Monument.  However, despite the objections from the Park Service, a Department of Interior “sister” agency, the BLM is moving forward with their plan to lease.

“Dinosaur National Monument and nearby Wilderness Study Areas, including Cross Mountain, will be negatively impacted if these lands are drilled,” said Soren Jespersen, Northwest Colorado Wildlands Coordinator for The Wilderness Society, “We need Colorado BLM to recognize the importance of this landscape and use its’ authority to remove these parcels from the sale. There are many areas that are appropriate for oil and gas development.  The entrance to Dinosaur National Monument is not one of them.”

In 2010, President Obama established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative as a way to reconnect American’s with their natural heritage.  The Yampa River Basin was chosen as one of Colorado three priority areas for future conservation and collaborative efforts due to successful pre-existing conservation efforts in the river valley led by the Yampa River Legacy Project.

At a speech in May 2011, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated, “In the Yampa River Basin, we will partner with Gov. Hickenlooper and local communities to conserve what is one of the most spectacular landscapes in our country…through the America’s Great Outdoors project in the Yampa River Basin, we will seek to boost effort already underway to preserve the Yampa and our rural way of life.”

“I can’t understand how BLM can identify the Yampa River as a priority for conservation, then go out and lease this area for oil and gas,” said Luke Schafer, Western Slope Director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Beyond being inconsistent, this decision to lease potentially undermines a terrific community conservation effort.”

BLM will formally respond to the protests as part of deciding whether to keep these lands in the February 14, 2013 lease sale; and has the authority and discretion to remove them from the sale.

Soren Jespersen