Human-made geographic boundary lines often have a funny way of not making sense. Take the BLM-administered lands of the Gunnison Country. The BLM Gunnison Field Office oversees public lands in parts of Gunnison, Hinsdale, Saguache and Montrose Counties. But did you know that the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO), which is based out of Montrose, manages public lands and minerals across a sizeable chunk of northwestern Gunnison County? This area includes the Upper North Fork Valley (near Paonia), home to Gunnison County’s active coal and natural gas operations, and directly upstream from the orchards, vineyards and farms where many of us get our locally-sourced meat and produce. It’s a special landscape of mid-elevation gambel oak forests, rolling pastureland, and aspen covered slopes at the foot of the West Elk and Ragged Mountains. The public lands of the Upper North Fork are home to abundant, but at-risk, populations of elk, mule deer, black bear, turkey and cutthroat trout. Also found prowling in the more remote sections is the elusive Canada lynx!
Much of this landscape is National Forest and private ranchland. The BLM UFO manages some surface lands, primarily along the Highway 133 corridor, but is responsible for the federal mineral estate in northwestern Gunnison County. This means that all of the federal coal and natural gas in the Upper North Fork (whether the surface is private, BLM, or Forest Service) is managed by the BLM’s Montrose office, with direct implications for wildlife, clean water, clean air, and downstream farms, orchards and ranches. Currently, the BLM UFO is in the process of updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP), a comprehensive document that guides public land and resources. As the agency and the public work on updating the RMP, two important issues are at stake: the future of coal mining and natural gas development in Gunnison County. HCCA is coordinating with other West Slope conservation groups to secure an RMP that promotes a sustainable future, one built on wise public lands use. So what’s the problem with the recently released Draft RMP, why should you care, and what can you do to help?

The Problem: The BLM’s Draft RMP proposes to leave approximately 95 percent of the planning area open to oil and gas leasing and development, and proposes to leave 98 percent of the Somerset coal field open and available for coal leasing and development. This means that, in spite of climate change, hunting and fishing, sustainable recreation, clean water and air, and the myriad other factors that challenge the archaic pursuit of fossil fuel development on public lands, the BLM is continuing with its business-as-usual approach to the resources it manages in northwestern Gunnison County.

Why You Should Care: If you ever venture beyond Kebler Pass to recreate; if you hunt, fish or view wildlife in the Upper North Fork; if you purchase meat, produce or wine from the local farms of the North Fork Valley; if you care about climate change, snowpack and winter recreation; or if you support transitioning from dirty fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy, then you should be paying attention to the UFO RMP. The updated RMP will determine the management of public lands and resources for decades to come, and it shouldn’t be mired in old-fashioned approaches that exacerbate climate change and compromise environmental and public health. It may seem like a world away on the other side of Kebler Pass, but it affects you!

What You Can Do: We’re currently in the middle of the public comment period on the Draft RMP. The BLM extended the comment period to November 1, and HCCA and others are using this opportunity to engage the public and generate input. HCCA recommends that you don’t wait, but submit comments to the agency today!

Consider raising the following points in your comment:

  • You support the “North Fork Alternative” (Alternative B. 1);
  • You are opposed to the expansion of coal and natural gas development on public lands of Gunnison County and the North Fork Valley;
  • The BLM should include a reasonable range of alternatives in its Final EIS. Currently, no alternative in the Draft RMP closes more than 30% of the lands available for coal. This is not a reasonable range of alternatives.
  • The Draft RMP identifies 180,000 acres “where the coal resource is present, contributes to the coal development potential area, but they are not further discussed in this analysis because they have low coal potential and no interest from industry.” Where there is low coal potential and no interest in the resource, the BLM should make that coal unavailable for leasing and development.
  • If you hunt, fish, hike or recreate in the Upper North Fork, let the BLM know that you value these uses of the landscape, and that they are impacted by fossil fuel development.
  • If you purchase fruit, vegetables, meat, wine or other produce from the local farms surrounding Paonia, Hotchkiss and other communities of the North Fork Valley, let the BLM know that clean, local food is more important than dirty fuel development.

Submit your comments by November 1, 2016 by email to uformp@blm.gov. Please courtesy copy Matt@hccacb.org.