WASHINGTON - August 10 - Six Colorado citizen groups today filed documents formally protesting oil and gas leasing on potential wilderness lands. Inclusion of proposed wilderness areas in the Bureau of Land Managements (BLM) August 12 Competitive Oil & Gas Lease Sale, the groups say, would mar their wilderness characteristics and reduce their chances for protection.
The western Colorado lands in question, at Dolores River Canyons, Maverick Canyon, and Sagebrush Pillows, are included in the Citizens Wilderness Proposal that was presented to the BLM in September 2001. Last week, wilderness supporters delivered to the BLM additional detailed information about the areas natural values.
Colorado citizens have spent thousands of hours documenting that these areas deserve to be considered for wilderness protection, said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope Field Director for Colorado Environmental Coalition. This new information should prompt additional research and analysis by the BLM before the agency makes management decisions-- like oil and gas leasing--that could permanently harm these fabulous places.
The Colorado protest documents the BLMs failure to conduct sufficient inventory of certain wilderness values or changes that have occurred since the agencys inventory and analysis were completed or both. In addition, the protest asserts that protected public lands are closely related to the economic health and economic growth of nearby communities.
As Colorados population continues to skyrocket, we need to make cautious, well-informed decisions about the environment, said Vera Smith, Conservation Director for Colorado Mountain Club. Targeting our last wild places, as the administration is doing, is short-sighted, unbalanced, and a disservice to all of us who value places like these.
An April 2004 report issued by The Wilderness Society showed that 70% of the federal public lands already leased in Colorado for oil and gas development are not in production and that only 19,000 of 25,000 wells permitted in five western states have been drilled.
Especially when there is such a surplus of land that is already leased but not being drilled, it is irresponsible for the BLM to consider adding leases in potential wilderness, of all places, said Steve Smith, Assistant Regional Director for The Wilderness Society.
The protest echoes a letter submitted to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton this week in which 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked her not to issue oil and gas leases on Utah and Colorado lands proposed for wilderness protection in Americas Red Rock Wilderness Act and Colorado Wilderness Act. The letter asks Norton to exercise her authority as the nations chief land steward to direct the BLM not to issue leases which have been challenged by the public and that contain lands proposed for wilderness designation
The protest and the Congressional letter represent a growing legion of critics who have accused the BLM of targeting wilderness-quality lands for oil and gas leasing. Recent BLM lease sales in Colorado and Utah broke with tradition by including parcels of wilderness-quality lands, a direct result of a secret deal cut in April 2003 between Norton and former Utah Governor (now EPA Administrator) Mike Leavitt that prohibited BLM from protecting future wilderness. The agencys May sale in Colorado included 26 parcels in areas proposed for protection as wilderness, as well as three in roadless areas in the White River National Forest. Those leases were also protested by citizen groups and by county officials.
The Colorado Wilderness Act, introduced in the House by Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette in May 2003, would permanently protect citizen-proposed wilderness areas from uses inconsistent with these areas wilderness characteristics.
To be considered suitable for consideration as wilderness, lands must be found to contain characteristics that include: sufficient size; naturalness; outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation; and supplemental values. The protesting groups say that those values will be lost if the areas are leased for development.