Routt County seeks to protect its land from oil and gas development
Routt County commissioners are preparing a letter of support for protecting public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Routt County to prevent oil and gas leasing and development.
The letter is on the consent agenda for Routt County commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Soren Jespersen, field director of Colorado Wildlands Project, approached Routt County commissioners on Feb. 6 to ask for a letter of support and the county’s participation in a current revision of a planning process. The Colorado Wildlands Project is an advocacy group that works to protect public lands managed by the BLM.
“The Bureau of Land Management always operates as a good partner with municipalities, communities, and counties adjacent to their land, so that is what we are asking Routt County to engage in the plan to ensure the interests of the county are represented,” Jespersen said.
The U.S. District Court in Colorado mandated in a 2019 settlement that the BLM must redo portions of a 2015 plan that failed to properly analyze the impacts of oil and gas production on greenhouse gas emissions.
Portions of the plan that need to be revisited specifically in Routt County involve lands that are considered high value. Commissioners consider these highly valued because they contribute to robust wildlife populations, healthy watersheds and include recreational hotspots such as Emerald Mountain and King Mountain.
Jespersen said that although the area of land is relatively small, its importance to the recreation and wildlife integrity of the county is much larger. Additionally, opening up these lands to oil and gas leasing and development has the potential to jeopardize their recreational and ecological values, according to Jespersen.
In their letter addressed to the BLM’s district manager, Routt County commissioners stress the fact oil and gas development is not currently a public land use that significantly contributes to the county’s economy.
“The areas we are talking about are not places that oil and gas companies are knocking on the door to drill; these are places that have been open to drilling for years but haven’t been,” Jespersen said.
Jespersen indicated that officially closing these areas off to new oil and gas development would protect them in the future, instead of having to worry that something could change.
Commissioners also noted in their letter that these lands are already at risk due to stressors stemming from climate change, habitat loss, drought and increased visitation.
The BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office and Grand Junction Field Office include approximately 33,000 acres of surface land in Routt County that will be included in the revision of the Resource Management Plan Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
The BLM also manages approximately 30,000 acres of subsurface land with split-estate federally managed fluid mineral resources. Basically, private landowners own the surface land, while the BLM manages the mineral rights underneath it.
On Feb. 6, county commissioners showed particular concern for the King Mountain Recreation Area, which provides a rare opportunity for hunters to hunt in a non-motorized area.
Commissioners closed the letter by emphasizing that half of the lands in Routt County are public and rely on federal land management agencies to protect it.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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