BLM shifts green on 2 million Western Slope acres, setting up Colorado clash of environment vs. oil

Michael Booth and Tracy Ross
The Colorado Sun
Boulder resident India Wood hikes toward Castle Peak Saturday, July 18, 2020, near Wolcott.
Hugh Carey/For to The Colorado Sun

Two million acres of Colorado’s most scenic Western Slope lands would see stronger protections and less oil and gas leasing under a draft Bureau of Land Management proposal, in what would amount to a large-scale greening of the powerful federal agency.

The wildlands-friendly BLM draft, forced by environmental lawsuits and now lauded by the same groups, immediately drew the ire of extraction advocates.

The BLM’s preferred alternative in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement now up for public comment makes it easier to carve out wilderness and harder to drill on public lands in two districts stretching through Eagle, Pitkin and Mesa counties, and along much of the Colorado River. The impact statement is required for a BLM resource management plan that serves as the operating manual for years of federal actions. Once locked in place, advocacy groups can sue if the plan’s tenets are not fulfilled. 

Wildlands advocates went to court to seek tougher screening of land uses for potential greenhouse gas and climate change impacts. In a rare development over sprawling public lands battles in the modern era, the revised management plan gave green groups much of what they wanted. 

“This is really setting the stage for how you’re going to manage these 2 million acres for the next two decades,” said Peter Hart, legal director for Wilderness Workshop, one of the groups who sued over the BLM’s proposed 2015 resource management plan for the Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley districts on the Western Slope. 

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