US Forest Service Pulls Out of Energy Land Lease in Colorado

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Hunters and anglers in Colorado are applauding the U.S. Forest Service for its decision to withdraw from a proposed energy lease sale involving nearly 100,000 acres of public land in the state.

The agency's decision follows a protest of the sale, scheduled for Feb. 12, filed by Trout Unlimited. TU cited concerns over oil and gas extraction in critical fish and wildlife habitat as the reason for filing the protest, and maintains that the remaining Bureau of Land Management portion of the sale poses a threat to native Colorado River cutthroat trout and big game. Following the withdrawal of the Forest Service leases, there are now 28 parcels still for sale covering about 12,000 acres in Colorado.

"We're glad the Forest Service has made a commitment to responsible energy development by deferring these parcels. We are thankful to have an administration in place that is developing policies that strike the balance between drilling and hunting and angling values in the West," said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator with TU's Sportsmen's Conservation Project. "Of the leases that remain, there are several BML parcels we are concerned about because of potential impacts to Colorado River cutthroat trout in the upper Yampa River and Little Snake drainages. We have protested these leases and look forward to resolving our concerns and protest with the BLM."

Additional concerns involving the remaining BLM parcels are three leases in the headwaters of the North Platte River. At risk with these leases are not native trout populations, but rather the recreational fishery on the North Platte, a Gold Medal fishery.

"With both the Kremmling and Little Snake Field Offices revising their land use plans, we hope that the BLM will follow the lead of its sister agency and defer the remaining parcels that pose risks to Colorado's trout streams so that all stakeholders can collaborate on the completion of those management plans," Fisher said.

The withdrawal decision by the Forest Service will benefit Colorado River cutthroat trout in southwest Colorado, said David Vackar, backcountry coordinator with the SCP in Dolores. "The Colorado River cutthroat currently occupies less than 10 percent of its historic range in the West, and even less than that here in southwest part of the state. This decision protects opportunities for re-establishing populations of these fish in the upper San Miguel River drainage," Vackar said. "Maintaining the upper reaches of these historic Colorado River cutthroat streams for reintroduction in the future is critical to the long-term expansion and survival of our native trout."

And the trout won't be the only beneficiaries, Vackar said, adding that many of the parcels originally included in the USFS portion of the lease proposal harbor outstanding overall wildlife habitat.

"The high-elevation reaches of Beaver Creek, located on the west shoulders of the Lizard Head Wilderness, serve as important seasonal habitat for the elk herd located there. The elk would undoubtedly have been negatively impacted by the infrastructure necessary for oil and gas extraction," Vackar said. "Further, the lease areas on the upper reaches of Naturita Creek covered both sides of a canyon that, due to its uniqueness, has been proposed for enhanced protection and management. For these reason, we're pleased to hear these areas have been withdrawn from lease sales."

Trout Unlimited is the nation's oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, boasting over 150,000 members from coast to coast. TU's mission is to Protect, Reconnect, Restore and Sustain trout and salmon habitat in the United States.