North Fork Valley Residents, Business Owners Urge BLM Director to Withdraw February 2013 Oil & Gas Leases

January 17, 2013

Delegation from Colorado’s North Fork Valley Met with BLM Senior Staff & Congressional Staff in Hopes of Stopping the February BLM Oil & Gas Lease Sale

Washington, DC – This week, residents and business owners from the North Fork Valley took their case to the BLM Washington, DC office in hopes to stop a proposal to lease 20,000 acres in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling and fracking.

On Wednesday, the group met with BLM Director Mike Pool and BLM Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and urged the national BLM office to remove all 20 parcels and 20,555 acres in the North Fork Valley from the Colorado BLM’s February 2013 oil and gas lease sale.

The residents and business owners told BLM Director Pool how leasing these lands will negatively impact their businesses and the way of life in the North Fork. The group implored him to do whatever he can to prevent the lease sale from going forward.

“Our small winery is right next to a parcel, which is only 39-feet away from our water well,” said Ty Gillespie, owner of Azura Cellars and Gallery in Paonia. “Last year we had visitors from every state in the union. This is really about protecting the bucolic nature of our valley, which is so fundamental to our business.”

Landon Deane, of the Eagle Butte cattle ranch in Paonia and the T-Lazy-7 Ranch in Aspen, and Marley Hodgson, of the Smith Fork guest ranch in Crawford, told Director Pool about how oil and gas development would impact the sustainable economy that’s developed in the North Fork.

“Based on the wineries and the organic farming, we have a very sustainable economy here that’s not compatible with oil and gas development,” said Hodgson.

“We are here on the behalf of thousands of residents who are opposed to leasing these lands,” said Deane. “There are some places that warrant special protection and the North Fork is one of those places.”

National food and wine critic, and part-time Crawford resident, Eugenia Bone added that the sustainable agriculture that’s developed in the North Fork over recent years is threated at its core by the prospects of industrial scale oil and gas drilling.

“I have been a consistent advocate for the emerging organic food and wine scene in the North Fork,” said Bone. “Here we have a case where one industry, oil and gas, would completely decimate the existing, sustainable economy that is still growing. Moving forward with this lease sale based on outdated science and analysis is just a bad idea.”

Paonia resident and strategic consultant Pete Kolbeschlag mentioned how the group would like to work with the BLM, through the revision of the area field office’s Resource Management Plan (RMP).

“We were hoping to work with the BLM on the updated plan, but the February lease sale threatens this work,” said Kolbenschlag. “Leasing these lands before the updated plan is in place fails the common sense test, and we’re hopeful BLM will do the right thing and withdrawal these leases.”

A group of stakeholders is working to secure strong protections for the many important resources in the North Fork, in line with the BLM’s multiple-use mandate to manage public lands for all of their resource, not a mandate to lease all lands for oil and gas development.

The current land use plan for the North Fork was drafted in the mid-1980’s and was finalized in 1989. The area field office is working to finalize a new plan by 2014.

The group also met with staff members from their congressional delegation – Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Mark Udall, and Rep. Scott Tipton – and urged the elected officials to ask the BLM not to lease North Fork lands until an updated RMP puts protective management in place.

“Time and again we have tried to get the BLM Colorado office to slow down and wait until there’s an updated plan in place for the area,” said Hodgson. “We travelled all the way to Washington because it’s just that important to us. We really appreciate that BLM Director Pool and Deputy Director Kornze took the time to meet with us and listen to our concerns.”

This trip follows a visit to Washington last spring, which helped to secure a delay in the lease sale of the North Fork’s public lands. Citizens for a Healthy Community sponsored both trips to help to make sure the concerns of North Fork Valley residents are being heard in Washington.

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