BLM gets an F on Roan planning

In reconfiguring planning options for the Roan Plateau – a 73,000-acre expanse of public land northwest of Rifle – the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has tossed out a popular plan that would go the furthest in protecting the natural environment.

Town boards and city councils from Rifle to Carbondale endorsed Alternative F, also heavily favored by environmental groups.

In trimming the list of alternatives from six to four, the agency made it clear that preservation-minded Alternative F was too radical a concept for an administration seeking to open public lands for gas drilling.

Booting an alternative favored by local elected officials looks suspicious, and the situation will now require a much higher degree of public scrutiny as the planning process moves forward.

The best parts of Alternative F will apparently be parceled out among three of the four new options, now to be numbered 1 to 4.

One will be the required “no action” alternative. The other three are expected to range from completely opening the Roan Plateau and its majestic cliffs to gas leasing, to a hybridized version of Alternatives F and B that could bar drilling on 21,000 to 43,000 acres.

The public will have to watch closely to make sure the important elements of Alternative F survive.

Details are expected to be revealed in August, when BLM releases a draft environmental impact statement for future management of the Roan Plateau. That will be followed by a round of public comment before the agency issues a final impact statement and its decision on which alternative to choose.

BLM officials say cutting the alternatives from six to four will streamline the process and save money. The agency is now on the hot seat to show that these efficiencies prove up and that its new alternatives provide a framework for protecting this ecologically rich plateau.

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