Since last year, organic farmers, outdoors enthusiasts, and local businesses dependent on tourism have been trying to get the federal Bureau of Land Management to reconsider thousands of acres proposed for oil and gas leases in the North Fork Valley of Western Colorado. Yesterday the BLM removed 20,000 acres
in Delta County from the Feb. 14 lease auction.
The decision follows months of sometimes raucous public meetings and more than 100 protest letters from organic farmers, vineyard owners and tourism businesses. Their argument: oil and gas drilling would jeopardize the vibrant and growing economy, and fail to protect the environment.
The BLM oversees oil, gas and mineral leasing on all federal lands. Under 90-year-old laws,
companies and people can nominate public lands for drilling. BLM reviews the proposals, checking for other land uses including wildlife habitat and wilderness uses. Then, if there is no overriding conflict, the government is obliged to auction them - after some months of review and public comment.
What drew the ire of organic farmers and others in Delta County was the secrecy surrounding the nominations. Who chose those particular parcels, they wanted to know. A local activist group, Citizens for a Healthy Community
, has a lawsuit pending under the federal Freedom of Information Act to find out the name of the nominator.
Residents also objected that the lease sale was being conducted using a 1989 resource management plan – a plan that ignores the dynamic growth of organic agriculture and other economic changes.