Bureau of Land Management Area Field Manager Connie Clementson defended her agency's Resource Management Plan in a meeting with La Plata County officials on March 25.
The recently approved plan has drawn harsh criticism from area environmental groups and an editorial in the Durango Herald.
"Some information has gone out that's not quite accurate," Clementson said, adding that she thinks it's "a really great plan."
It covers 503,600 acres controlled by the BLM, plus more than 300,000 acres of non-federal surface ownership over federal mineral rights. The Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores covers La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel, and Montrose counties. It doesn't include Canyons of the Ancients.
Clementson said, "In September 2013, we issued with the Forest Service a combined plan. For the Forest Service, it was the final plan along with an oil and gas leasing decision."
The BLM plan is the same document, she said. "We pulled out the sections that apply to the BLM, but it's essentially the same plan."
The joint process started in 2004, with the regional BLM and Forest Service under combined management, she said. Now they are under separate management.
According to the handout she provided, around 15 percent of surface acres in the Tres Rios plan are protected - 56,000 acres in Wilderness Study Areas plus 12,000 acres with wilderness characteristics.
Around 820,000 acres, including split estate lands, are available for mineral leasing. Forty-two percent, around 345,000 acres, have no surface occupancy stipulations or are not available for lease.
Clementson listed 319,000 acres of split estate, all available for leasing, but with no surface occupancy on 88,000 of those acres.
The Forest Service and BLM have the same requirements and analysis for mineral development, she said. "We have new mitigation for ground and surface water protection, and disclosure of fracking chemicals to the agency." She did not address questions about disclosure of fracking chemicals the companies say are proprietary.
Commissioner Gwen Lachelt commented, "About 50 percent of chemicals are considered proprietary in some way."
Lachelt also asked about a master leasing plan, especially for the western part of La Plata County. "I don't see water resources in that area considered in your plan, and with 100 percent of split estate available for lease." She cited an experimental well drilled in that area that had to be shut in; the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission wouldn't allow it to be fracked, because of danger to ground water.
"We are wishing to move forward with some sort of master leasing plan (MLP)," Clementson said. She said she wants to know what the county wants included in the plan. The boundaries for that are being drafted and will be submitted to the BLM Washington DC office. If the MLP process is authorized, those leases will be deferred, she said.
County Commissioner Brad Blake was concerned about seasonal or permanent road closures that could affect county roads, especially off road vehicles on county roads.
"It's been a big issue across the state," he said. "Counties want control over their roads, who can and can't drive on them. ... What's happening a lot is they are inter-linked with the BLM or Forest Service, and they close the road."
Commissioner Gwen Lachelt commented, "I'm not aware of this being a big issue."
It is in Montezuma County, Blake said. Clementson agreed. The Cortez Journal reported this week that the Montezuma County Commissioners have joined a group that wants federal lands to be turned over to the states.
Clementson said, "We work very closely with the counties on what they have county right-of-way on. Sometimes it's the county being able to show that right-of-way, especially with the Forest Service." BLM works differently with counties on right-of-way issues, she said.
She said her agency will be doing a travel management analysis to designate areas that are open to motorized travel, closed, or limited use. The plan changes around 420,000 acres from open cross-country travel to limited to existing routes as the interim travel management plan. It calls for designation of travel routes within five years. The Forest Service has already gone through that process.
"As we go through that analysis, we'll look at that (county road issues) and involve the counties and the public," Clementson said. "The decision was to have five (travel management) areas and be done within five years of the (Resource Plan) Record of Decision."
She expects Montezuma County will go first. "I'm hoping within the next two years we'll initiate that process. Right now we are inventorying what the counties consider to be county roads."
She said, "The agencies make the best decisions they can, and that doesn't always make everybody happy."
According to the Record of Decision, the plan adopted Alternative B as the most balanced between resource development and preservation of the natural landscape.
Alternative A (no action) continued management according to the 1985 plan. Alternative C focused on multiple use with emphasis on maintaining the undeveloped character of the planning area. Alternative D focused on energy development and working range land.
Some other alternatives were considered but not analyzed because they weren't reasonable or weren't practical for technical, legal, or policy reasons, according to the record of decision. One of those was no more coalbed methane development in the HD Mountains.
The record of decision says, "The USFS HD Mountains Roadless Area was analyzed but was found to not be available for Wilderness due to its high mineral potential, approved plans, and current development of existing oil and gas leases within the area."
The plan and Record of Decision are on-line at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/sjplc/land_use_planning.html.