Why the BLM draft plan matters to Silt Mesa

September 20, 2011

Colorado, Garfield County, gas wells


Guest Post by Fiona Lloyd,
RSPN organizer and Silt Mesa resident



The BLM released their Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for public comment. The Plan is a long term management plan for the half million acres of Public Lands managed by the Colorado Valley Field Office and is expected to guide the agency for the next 10-15 years. As the last management plan was released in 1984, it’s considerably overdue, which would account for the 8-inch documentation weighing in at 12 lbs.

The process began back in 2007, when members of the public were invited to a series of scoping sessions that helped the BLM identify areas of concern and the scope of the management required. I attended the meetings, along with climbers, cyclists, anglers, outfitters, ranchers, environmentalists, hikers, and 4-wheelers. We identified 12 issues of concern along with a dozen or so areas that needed Special Management and a dozen or so that needed Extensive Management. Silt Mesa is one of the areas identified for Extensive Recreation Management (ERMA). There are also a number of local areas designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, detailed in appendix E pages 11- 34 vis: Grand Hogback and Flatiron Mesa. And many other areas considered for, but ultimately not designated including West Elk, Main Elk, Rifle Falls, Butler Creek, etc.

The issues have been laid out with comparisons between the four management alternatives. For detail refer to Volume 1, Executive Summary, but in a nutshell: Alternative A – No Action Required; B is the Preferred Alternative; C is Conservation Emphasis; and D is Resource Use emphasis.

It’s important to note that the debate has already been framed. For example, we are not asked: “Is it, or is it not, appropriate to open public lands to oil and gas development?” Instead we are asked: “Do you want more oil and gas development or lots more?” For the Thompson Divide Coalition, this is a bitter pill. For example they worked hard with local land managers to forge an agreement to allow climbing whilst protecting the ecosystem, only to have the BLM sell the oil and gas leases that will crisscross the land with roads and well pads.

Silt Mesa’s alternatives (as an ERMA) are laid out in Volume 1. Chapter 2, table 2.1 page 79. Alternative A is a wishy-washy, do-nothing choice. B, C and D all designate Silt Mesa as an ERMA. However, only B and C apply a CSU restriction. To find out what a CSU restriction is, we turn to Appendix B, page B 53. A CSU is a Controlled Surface Use stipulation that applies to Fluid Minerals Development and Other Surface Disturbing Activities. In essence, only B and C will provide a measure of protection from the ravages of oil and gas.

Please note that Antero has leases on the BLM on Silt Mesa, which were up for renewal in August of 2011. Because of the way the leases work, I believe that their production from the well up Slaughter Gulch entitles them to automatically renew their lease. However, if Alternative B or C is supported, it is going to be harder for them to stick a well pad and roads up here.

In addition to the specifics of Silt Mesa, there is one other vital aspect to this Draft Management Plan. For the first time Air Quality is listed as an issue of concern. The alternatives for AQ can be summarized as follows: A—do nothing; B and C—do what we can without upsetting anyone; and D—do what we have to. I would argue that for the BLM to be effective in any way shape or form, there have to be baseline air quality studies done ASAP.

From a personal point of view, I wrote the book, Horse Trails of Garfield County in 2005. Since then, virtually all of the land I described south of the river has been utterly ruined by oil and gas development. There is more and more data everyday that indicates the loss and fragmentation of habitat is causing the reduction in game herds and the annihilation of Sage Grouse. Oil and gas development has provided funds for the new shiny BLM offices south of Silt and, as far as I can see, 3 new cattle guards on BLM land. I don’t see more rangers, I don’t see new access agreements, or signage, or parking. Instead I see degradation of our environment at every turn.

If we want to have any hope of preserving anything for the future, and indeed for our current enjoyment, it is vital that we enact the strongest protections for our land, our health, and for the wildlife that provides many of us with our livelihood.

Please make your comments known to the BLM and join them at public open houses detailed in the  Colorado River Valley Field Office RMP Newsletter.

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