Our public lands more than just a gas, oil reservoir

The local Bureau of Land Management is increasingly treating our public lands as merely a gas and oil reservoir to be tapped at industry’s convenience.

The mission of the BLM is: “To sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” It is a grand mission. Yet the local Tres Rios Field Office is acting as if the mission is: To promote, encourage and support the gas and oil development industry.

The stated mission and the local actions are at odds.

The latest move by Tres Rios was to propose leasing lands immediately adjacent to the Dolores River, in the Big Gypsum Valley in San Miguel County, for gas and oil development.

The BLM is well aware of a multi-stakeholder effort to find consensus on a long-term management plan for the Dolores River corridor. The effort – by local governments, water companies, farmers, miners, ranchers, landowners, conservationists and interested community members – has been going on for more than six years. Our congressional delegation is also involved. The BLM has acknowledged its interest in the recommendations of the group by postponing its Dolores River Corridor Management Plan.

Regardless of your opinions about the wisdom of leasing these lands for gas and oil, it seems that allowing the local community to follow through with its efforts to find consensus makes sense.

Obviously, the BLM doesn’t care what the local community thinks. If any single individual, or company, requests a lease, the agency feels compelled to comply.

This, despite the public uproar about the proposed leasing of lands surrounding Mesa Verde, underlying much of western La Plata County farm and ranch land and parcels near the Navajo River in southern Archuleta County, a few months ago. That proposal generated opposition from the Bureau of Reclamation, numerous counties and hundreds of landowners and residents.

The BLM decided to postpone that lease, but it appears that it just can’t wait any longer. Our understanding is that this proposal will be offered in the November 2013 lease sale.

Is this information on the BLM website? No. Is this information public? No. The plan, instead, is to announce it in mid-August, when the public only then will be allowed to enter the complex and demanding legal-challenge process. No comment period, no solicitation of input, just take us to court or live with the consequences.

This top-down, public-be-damned approach to managing lands and resources is more reflective of a Soviet-style government than one focused on “the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Maybe it is the use by the present gas and oil industry, it sees as more important.

The private ranch and farm lands of western La Plata County, and the lands surrounding Mesa Verde and the Dolores River and southern Archuleta County, all deserve a robust and complete public process before being given over to the gas and oil industry.

The BLM just can’t wait, or be bothered. Its mission, and we, the people, be damned.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

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