DENVER -- October 21 -- No matter who wins the Presidential election on November 2, the current Administration will auction off an unprecedented number of wild areas in Colorado to oil and gas drilling exactly one week later. According to recent analysis of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) November 9 oil and gas lease sale, the agency will offer for lease more than 15,000 acres located within seven areas proposed by citizens and pending before Congress for wilderness protection.|
Citizens have spent thousands of hours verifying that these areas are eligible for formal wilderness designation, said Kurt Kunkle, who coordinates volunteer field inventory work for Colorado Environmental Coalition. These unspoiled places protect Colorados clean air and clean water, and they should be off-limits until Congress has had a chance to weigh in on them.
Including the upcoming sale, 43,600 acres of citizens proposed wilderness in Colorado have been offered for auction in the past eighteen months. Prior to an April 2003 settlement between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the state of Utah, most proposed wilderness in Colorado was off limits to oil and gas drilling.
Not only has this Administration refused to provide protection for these special places while they are considered for wilderness designation, it is clearly targeting those very same areas for oil and gas development, said Pete Kolbenschlag of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. If these area are opened to drilling, roads, and industrial activity, their wilderness character will be lost forever. Colorados future wilderness is threatened as never before.
In response to increasing public outcry over the BLMs decisions to sell leases in sensitive areas such as Colorados Dolores River Canyon and Utahs Desolation Canyon, the Administration has claimed that it is required by Congress to hold these lease sales (see http://wilderness.org/Library/Documents/CorrectingDOIFactsheet.cfm). But Steve Smith of The Wilderness Society points out, The Bureau of Land Management has the choice of which lands to lease or not lease for drilling. For them to suggest that they are required to lease these particular special places is just misleading. The Mineral Leasing Act gives the BLM the discretion to decide whether or not to lease any given tract of land.
The November sale targets land scattered between northwestern and southwestern Colorado, including Big Ridge, Dragon Canyon, Grand Hogback, Granite Creek, Maverick Canyon, McKenna Peak, and Sagebrush Pillows proposed wilderness areas. Granite Creek is an example of potential wilderness unique to the entire Wilderness Preservation System. Lower in elevation than most wilderness, this proposed addition southwest of Grand Junction is part of the remote Dolores Triangle, an area known for its superb big game hunting and unique trout fishery. Granite Creek offers a wealth of primitive recreational opportunities through a range of diverse ecosystems, from riparian filled with mature cottonwood trees to montane high points. Those highlands afford spectacular views of the Dolores and Colorado rivers and of the La Sal Mountains in Utah.
So far, Granite Creek has been free of oil and gas leases. The BLMs November sale would change that, prompting wilderness advocates to formally protest the leases proposed there and in the six other areas.
Were not asking them to stop drilling everywhere. Weve challenged only a small percentage of the areas that BLM has auctioned off, Smith said. Were just asking them to leave a few of the most special places for future generations to enjoy.