SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – As the Bureau of Land Management’s Nov. 13 Oil and Gas Lease Sale nears, there are concerns by San Miguel County staff that the six selected parcels of land in the county are in too close proximity to the San Miguel River canyon and could endanger Gunnison sage grouse habitat. County Planning Director Mike Rozycki voiced his concerns to the county commissioners at their Sept. 24 meeting in Norwood.
The BLM lease notice initially identified large tracts of land in the west end of the county on Iron Springs Mesa, west of the Peninsula on Specie Mesa and on Wright’s Mesa near Gurley Canyon, all within the Uncompahgre Basin Resource Area. Much of the land nominated for sale has now been deferred due to the BLM’s consideration of the San Miguel River as a Wild and Scenic River, exempting acreage within a quarter-mile of the river. The deferral has not been enough to put Rozycki at ease.
“The question I raise is about the tracts that are immediately adjacent to the quarter-mile buffer,” Rozycki said in an interview Tuesday. “Before this [Wild and Scenic] study is completed (slated for 2013), these [tracts of land] are already sort of setting the corridor. It’s like the tail wagging the dog.”
According to Rozycki, much of the land adjacent to the buffer administered by the BLM includes a No Surface Occupancy Stipulation to protect scenic, natural and cultural values and resources, but he found it “curious” that two of the tracts administered by the U.S. Forest Service do not. Rozycki has asked BLM Land and Minerals Staff Supervisor Theresa Pfifer to, at a minimum, request that a No Surface Occupancy Stipulation be placed on the Forest Service land.
An 80-acre parcel on Iron Springs Mesa also has no stipulations, but county staff have determined that it is located within the Colorado Department of Wildlife mapped Occupied Gunnison Sage Grouse habitat. BLM concurred that a small tip of that parcel is on sage grouse habitat and would recommend that the parcel be reduced in size.
In addition, Rozycki is considering asking the BLM to discuss this particular parcel with Department of Wildlife officials to get their recommendation on leasing and any stipulations to minimize potential adverse impacts to sage grouse habitat.
Further to the west, a 200-acre tract consists of three separate BLM parcels south and west of the San Miguel River and Beaver Canyon in the vicinity of Norwood Hill. These tracts are adjacent to the quarter-mile buffer and within the BLM’s San Miguel River Area of Critical Environmental Concern. According to Rozycki’s memo, they are also within the Norwood San Miguel River Source Water Protection Area.
BLM officials told Rozycki that the current Uncompahgre Basin Resource Area plan does not prohibit oil and gas leasing or development in an Area of Critical Concern, and in the past, the county commissioners have not been successful in objecting to BLM leasing within these areas.
“Right now, we are just trying to get a feel of what is going on,” Rozycki said. “There were a fair number of mistakes in the lease notice. BLM staff has been cooperative after the initial notice but some of the information, from my viewpoint, had some significant issues in it.”
Rozycki and staff, including Geographic Information System Coordinator Heather Widlund, who will be helping with any mapping discrepancies, are continuing to gather information about the parcels before the formal objection deadline of Oct. 29. Rozycki said he plans to give a formal recommendation to the commissioners at their Oct. 22 meeting in Norwood regarding any objections to the lease sale. He emphasized that the leasing of these parcels creates the potential for development, but is not definite.