The Bureau of Land Management on Monday released its proposal for the first revision of the Resource Management Plan for the Colorado River Valley in 30 years.
Six years in the making, the plan will eventually guide management decisions on 505,200 surface acres and 707,200 acres of subsurface mineral estate administered by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Eagle, Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin, Rio Blanco and Routt counties for about two decades, according to a statement released by the agency.
Activities ranging from oil and gas development, to cattle grazing, to mountain biking, to off-road vehicle usage and what roads remain open could be affected.
“The extensive involvement from the public as well as our local, state and federal cooperating agencies for the past six years has been critical to developing this Resource Management Plan,” said Steve Bennett, field manager for the Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt. “We have developed a plan that balances protection of sensitive resources with resource use.”
The RMP does not include the Roan Plateau area. The plan for that area was amended in 2008 and is considered sufficiently up to date that it was not included in this revision.
The plan is hundreds of pages long and includes three volumes and dozens of appendices. Initial highlights, according to the plan’s executive summary, include:
Oil & gas
The plan contemplates reducing from 672,000 to 603,000 acres the federal mineral estate open to fluid minerals leasing. It also would increase from 28,700 acres to 98,100 acres the portion of the federal mineral estate closed to fluid mineral leasing.
It would increase from 239,000 to 355,000 acres areas where surface occupancy would be forbidden. Likewise, the area in which surface occupancy would be controlled would increase from 423,000 to 616,000 acres.
“This is one of the most important documents for our resource economy over the next 20 years,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
Ludlam said he had not yet had the opportunity to review the voluminous plan in detail, though on first glance it appeared there were areas of concern for industry and other parts that might be viewed as favorable.
He also noted that the impacts of stipulations and restrictions in the plan need to be assessed in aggregate, as special designations and other changes overlap to create greater impact than either would have alone.
Given increasing competition from other parts of the state and country, such restrictions can “become a very big deal when it continues to increase costs in a basin where we already have to do everything we can to remain competitive,” he said.
“On federal minerals with a high potential for the occurrence of natural gas, the proposed RMP only closes the unleased portions of the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area (2,500 acres),” wrote BLM spokesperson Deanna Masterson in response to specific questions. “The other areas outside of the high potential area closed to oil and gas leasing in the proposed plan include the Upper Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, the suitable Wild and Scenic River segments and areas managed for their wilderness characteristics.”
In keeping with revised national policy, the RMP’s preferred alternative recommends reducing from almost 296,000 acres to 0 acres land open to cross country travel by mechanized or motorized means. About 464,000 acres would be restricted to designated routes for mechanized or motorized travel, up from 123,000 acres.
“I know we are moving to designated routes only, and that’s included in this plan,” said Masterson.
“While no areas are designated in this Proposed RMP for cross-country travel, it is allowed in the 2,460-acre Hubbard Mesa OHV Open Area managed by this field office in the Roan Plateau Planning Area,” according to a BLM travel fact sheet.
Hubbard Mesa is a popular OHV riding area outside Rifle.
Total miles of designated motor routes would be reduced from 950 to 675 miles, while routes designated for foot or horse use would increase from 170 to 405 miles.
Off-highway vehicle (OHV) use would be restricted seasonally on nearly 131,000 acres compared with 73,600 acres now, while the acreage closed altogether to OHV use would drop from 44,000 to 41,200 acres.
“The BLM conducted travel management with extensive involvement from the public and specific user groups to identify and designate routes,” Masterson wrote in response to questions about travel management. “The BLM made specific route designation changes from the preferred alternative to the proposed alternative based on comments received during the comment period on the Draft RMP, as well as consultation with cooperating agencies and the BLM Colorado Northwest Resource Advisory Council.”
The Proposed RMP would include five areas totaling 34,400 acres that would be managed for protection of wilderness characteristics:
• Castle Peak Addition – 3,900 acres in Eagle County;
• Deep Creek – 4,300 acres in Eagle and Garfield counties;
• Flat Tops Addition – 3,500 acres in Eagle and Garfield counties;
• Pisgah Mountain – 14,500 acres in Eagle County;
• Thompson Creek – 8,200 acres in Garfield and Pitkin counties.
In addition, two BLM segments of Deep Creek were determined suitable for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic River System. The U.S. Forest Service has determined two other segments of Deep Creek as suitable.
Similar determinations were deferred on two segments of the Colorado River totaling 61 miles, according to another fact sheet. That includes the 61-mile stretch from State Bridge to near Glenwood Canyon.
The U.S. Forest Service is making similar deferrals for two segments of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon totaling 6.5 miles.
Both deferrals were made in deference to a stakeholders group studying the designations.
“Because the Colorado River segments retain their eligibility status, the BLM and USFS will continue to manage them to protect their outstandingly remarkable values,” according to the BLM wild and scenic river fact sheet.