On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office in northwest Colorado issued its final Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA), with a specific focus on oil and gas development. The 1.5-million-acre area that will be impacted is home to two of the largest mule deer and elk herds in North America, and this RMPA will influence how those species are managed in the face of large-scale oil and gas development. After providing significant comments on the draft plan in early 2013, sportsmen are calling the final RMPA greatly improved.
“While there are still some concerns about long-term impacts tobig game and other wildlife, the BLM has made significant improvements from the draft plan,” said Nick Payne, our Colorado field representative. “The BLM has focused on maintaining wildlife populations and public recreationopportunities, while ensuring the responsible development of oil and gas resources. The ultimate success of this plan will depend on successful implementation in the coming years.”
The BLM has committed to sustaining habitat conditions that support big game populations at levels commensurate with long-term objectives established by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This includes growing the White River mule deer herd, which populates what was once known as the ‘mule deer factory,’ to 67,500 animals. In the 2013 draft of the plan, the BLM had proposed a reduction of up to 50% of this herd, whose population was already 30% below the Colorado Parks and Wildlife management objective.
“Northwest Colorado offers some of the finest mule deer and elk hunting anywhere, and it is imperative that this resource be sustained for current and future generations of sportsmen,” says Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the TRCP. “I’d encourage BLM offices across the West to follow the lead of the White River Field Office in committing to the state fish and wildlife agencies’ established population objectives.” Arnett shared this opinion with the Denver Post’s Bruce Finley in this April 1 story.
The BLM will also be instituting a master leasing plan for more than 422,000 acres of BLM land surrounding Dinosaur National Monument in the northwest part of the field office. Development within that area will be introduced in stages to help minimize negative effects of development on wildlife and other resources. “Master Leasing Plans are an important component of responsible energy development,” says John Ellenberger, a retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife big game manager. “I was involved with establishing game management units in quality elk hunting areas, and I’m thankful that the BLM has adequately planned to give this important wildlife habitat ample consideration.”
Within the White River RMPA, the BLM is applying measures to conserve about 167,000 acres of “generally intact and undeveloped backcountry,” which provide “high quality recreational settings, habitats, and primitive-type recreational opportunities.” This includes big game habitat and access to quality hunting opportunities in four Colorado Game Management Units that host thousands of hunters each year. “I appreciate the fact that the Bureau of Land Management has taken steps to maintain traditional land uses,” says Larry Amos, owner of Winterhawk Outfitters in Collbran and a volunteer with Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “This plan will ensure that hunting, fishing, and outfitting can remain viable in Colorado, by conserving some of our most spectacular lands and wildlife habitat and keeping it intact.”
A local coalition of 32 sporting organizations and businesses was involved in this planning process, and sportsmen across the West are prepared to stay involved as the plans are implemented. “The BLM has taken positive steps to conserve intact backcountry lands with high quality wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities, and as a business owner whose bottom line depends on public lands hunting and fishing, I appreciate that,” said Kevin Timm, owner of Seek Outside, a Grand Junction-based outdoor gear manufacturer that sells products directly to sportsmen. “The stage is now set for sportsmen to engage in the forthcoming full RMP revision. It’s what we need to do to ensure that intact and undeveloped lands are responsibly managed as backcountry conservation areas.”
Read the final EIS here. Protests may be filed through April 27, 2015.