GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – The federal government is opening 90 percent of the Little Snake Area to drilling while setting limits on other scenic areas in northwestern Colorado, limits that conservationists say are too little too late.
Soren Jespersen, spokesman for The Wilderness Society in Craig, Colo., said the Bureau of Land Management plan announced Monday covers oil-and-gas exploration and other uses across 2.3 million acres of northwestern Colorado.
The plan governs all activities on 1.1 million acres of BLM land and 1.3 million acres of private land where the BLM controls mineral rights across Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.
Restrictions will cover sage grouse breeding areas, the Vermillion Basin canyon lands and a 22-mile stretch of the Yampa River that may qualify for a wild and scenic ban.
“While we are pleased to see Vermillion Basin protected, we are dismayed that the plan still opens around 90 percent of the resource area to oil and gas drilling, leaving 10 percent for the myriad other uses of these amazing lands,” Sorensen said.
Jespersen said Tuesday the decision will hurt some of North America’s largest elk and mule deer herds, and threaten huge canyons of red rock and petroglyphs in the Vermillion Basin that gets its name from the spectacular colors.
Steven Hall, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the agency will never get agreement on the best way to manage public lands.
“This tries to get at the right balance between allowing responsible oil-and-gas development and protecting wildlife habitat,” Hall told The Denver Post.
Federal biologists have declared sage grouse deserving protection under the Endangered Species Act to avert extinction. No drilling will be allowed within about a half mile of sage grouse breeding areas.
Regulations would limit drilling at sensitive times of year on more than 1 million acres of prime wildlife habitat.
Jespersen said the final plan is an improvement, but he said previous plans set the bar so low that it still does not do enough to protect natural resources.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that he was disappointed with the plan because he believes it doesn’t go far enough. Gray said oil and gas development needs to occur “where you find it,” and that includes the Vermillion Basin.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)