DENVER — Colorado sportsmen groups have joined forces to ask the Bureau of Land Management to carefully consider the impacts of any oil and gas development on South Park’s valuable open space, waterways, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership submitted comments during the first phase of public input into the drafting of a master leasing plan for the renowned wildlife and recreation area.
“Sportsmen’s and wildlife groups have been working for years to support Park County’s efforts to ensure that South Park remains the one-of-a-kind natural gem that it is,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “The planning process in South Park could serve as a model for other areas as the BLM implements a landscape-scale review of important natural resources and considers ways to avoid or minimize the effects of oil and gas drilling and production.”
South Park is a popular recreation area for sportsmen from Colorado and around the world. The vast area generates more than $17 million a year from hunting and fishing and is home to herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorns as well as about 20 miles of Gold Medal trout waters, such as the Middle Fork of the South Platte and the fabled “Dream Stream.” South Park reservoirs also supply at least one-third of the drinking water supply for the Denver metro area.
“Thousands of hunters and anglers visit South Park each year to utilize the countless public land opportunities, and in particular, those recreation opportunities in the numerous State Wildlife Areas and along the Gold Medal streams. Protecting the integrity of these areas and the sustainable economic engine they support is integral and should be a chief goal of the South Park MLP,” wrote Trout Unlimited in its scoping comments.
A master leasing plan, or MLP—one of the Interior Department’s leasing reforms—is a zoning plan to help ensure that oil and gas development takes place responsibly and doesn’t damage important outdoor values, wildlife habitat and water supplies.
Image: Aaron Kindle
Being 'smart from the start'
South Park, because of its largely undeveloped character and high-value resources, offers an ideal place to pursue a collaborative, “smart from the start” MLP approach that balances conservation values and development goals.
In their scoping comments, the groups expressed common ground on several specific protection measures for South Park, including:
- No leasing on nearly 4,400 acres about four miles east of Fairplay that is important elk and deer winter range and a migration corridor between big-game summer and winter range. The area on the west side of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area is a winter elk concentration area.
- No surface disturbance on 3,806 acres on the east and west borders of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area and another 1,463 acres west of Colorado 9 where elk concentrate in the winter.
- Requiring companies to avoid or minimize surface disturbances in pronghorn winter concentration areas and deer winter range.
- 500-foot setbacks from the ordinary high-water mark of water bodies: perennial and intermittent streams, lakes, reservoirs, springs, wetlands and other riparian areas.
- One-half mile setbacks on either side of the ordinary high water mark from Gold Medal streams and reservoirs. “This buffer is needed to maintain the extraordinary recreational experience that anglers in Colorado, the United States and internationally value in South Park’s gold medal waters,” CWF and NWF wrote.
“With the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, the BLM has a great opportunity to institute a thorough and community-vetted MLP that safeguards a truly special place for America’s hunters and anglers,” said Nick Payne, Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Thousands of elk and mule deer migrate to and from public lands in South Park every year, and sportsmen from the Front Range, throughout the state, and across the country seek world-class outdoor experiences here. These plans should take them into account.”
“There’s a place for responsible, carefully sited energy development,” said David Nickum, executive director for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “But there are also pristine, wild places where oil and gas drilling doesn’t belong. By making smart decisions now on where and how development can take place, we can avoid future conflicts.”
National Wildlife Federation/Colorado Wildlife Federation: