Colorado BLM Defers Decision on Oil and Gas Lease

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By deferring an oil and gas lease in northwest Colorado that could have jeopardized native trout, the Bureau of Land Management has signaled a new day for energy development in sensitive fish and wildlife habitats, a sportsmen's coalition announced.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development was troubled by oil and gas development proposed for the 900-acre parcel due to its potential impacts on two populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout, a species of special concern in Colorado. The public land in the proposal, located 25 miles northeast of Craig, encompasses Cataract Creek and the Roaring Fork of Slater Creek. It was originally reviewed for leasing in 1991.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.

In the 18 years since the lease was proposed, much has been learned about balancing fish and wildlife habitat with energy development, but the decision to lease this parcel has not been updated. However, the BLM is revising its resource management plan for the area, and the sportsmen's coalition expects the agency to establish measures to protect the fish.

"Deferring this lease was the right decision," said Steve Belinda, energy policy manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "Considering that the BLM is revising its Little Snake Resource Management Plan, which governs administration of the area's natural resources, waiting to proceed with leasing these lands makes a lot of sense."

The BLM's action in Colorado has precedent elsewhere and indicates a revised approach by the agency in evaluating proposed energy leases on federally managed public land. In a special report issued earlier this month, the BLM identified similar cases of inappropriate decisions to lease land for development after reviewing 77 leases in Utah that were withdrawn.

"This lease was a victim of a broken process that's in dire need of repair," said John Gale, Colorado regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Secretary Salazar has recognized that a more balanced process is needed," Gale added, "and the sportsmen of the West stand ready to help the BLM develop a process that works for fish and wildlife, sportsmen and for industry."

"It made no sense to sell this lease now when old, outdated policies would have conflicted with a new direction in resource management," said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

"By deferring this lease, the BLM is signaling that it is going to stop leaping before it looks," said Fisher. "Sportsmen welcome this change and appreciate the BLM thoroughly reviewing this lease to make sure that multi-state and multi-agency efforts to conserve Colorado River cutthroat trout are not compromised."

For more information about the SFRED coalition, visit www.sportsmen4responsibleenergy.org.