Lease Sale a Bad Idea, Residents Say

Staff  Report

(NORTH FORK VALLEY, 11/20/12)—When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Nov. 16 that it intends to lease 20,555 acres in the North Fork Valley at a February oil and gas lease sale in Denver, the notification drew sharp criticism from local citizen groups.

In a news release, the Non-profit Citizens for Healthy Community called the sale “a bad idea.”

“Colorado’s North Fork Valley has become a premier destination for its wineries, farms, orchards, artists, and food culture. Nothing about today’s North Fork was ever considered by the BLM in its 25-year old management plan and it is simply wrong, based upon that plan, to open these lands up for oil and gas,” said Ty Gillespie, owner and operator of Azura Cellars and Gallery in Paonia. “People here deserve better from our government than to be ignored, and America’s public lands deserve more as well.”

The North Fork parcels, which had previously been scheduled for, and deferred from, the August 2012 lease sale are adjacent to the communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford.

“This was a bad idea last December and it’s still a bad idea today,” said Citizens for a Healthy Community Director Jim Ramey. “Our community pulled together to fight the lease sale earlier this year, and we will pull together again. We have business owners, sportsmen, farmers, and other citizens all on the same page on this – leasing these lands is inappropriate and incompatible with today’s North Fork Valley.”

The following statement was issued by NFRIA-WSERC.

“The Conservation Center and its members are frustrated that the BLM has chosen to proceed with the highly contested lease sale…We are pleased to see that the BLM has removed 9,000 acres – including Mt. Jumbo and Paonia’s municipal watershed- but it just isn’t good enough” says Sarah Sauter, Executive Director of the Conservation Center.  “The remaining parcels still include selenium rich Mancos shale, miles of irrigation ditches, drinking water springs and valuable wildlife habitat.”

NFRIA-WSERC  called The BLM’s choice to proceed ‘especially disappointing’  in light of the soon-to-be-released BLM Uncompahgre Field Office draft Resource Management Plan (RMP), which would replace a 1989 RMP as the guiding document for land management decisions. The old document does not even consider fracking or horizontal drilling.

“It is disappointing that the BLM would not make sure proper updated management is in place before it would even think about doing something like this” said Sauter. “The BLM should defer these North Fork parcels from lease sale until they complete the RMP or an Environmental Impact Statement.”

The Conservation Center said that it will file an official protest and encourages community members and local businesses to file protests as well.