Volume 104, Number 8 - February 22, 2007
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How the public will be able to use public lands
Since 1988, the Bureau of Land Management has used the same guiding document to determine categories of lands and their varied uses in the Pinedale area. But now, the first step in revising the Pinedale Planning Area’s Resource Management Plan (RMP), has been released for public review.
The draft RMP’s environmental impact statement (EIS), detailing BLM’s plans for the one million acres it manages in the area, is open for public comment until May 18.
The EIS examines four options, one of which is a no-change alternative, leaving the 1988 document intact. The other three analyze different levels of allowable leasing and environmental protections, with Alternative 4 designated the BLM’s Preferred Alternative.
Under Alternative 1, which does not change the 1988 RMP, just over one million acres are available for oil and gas leasing. No acreage in the Pinedale planning area would be “administratively unavailable” for energy development leasing.
This alternative condones 107,907 animal unit months (AUMs), and allows OHV use without any restrictions in the Desert General Use Area, 237,360 acres of high desert south of Boulder.
Alternative 2 increases the amount of land available for leasing, to 1,177,430 acres. This alternative looks at impacts from maximizing oil and gas development while still “providing an adequate level of environmental protection of other resources.”
This alternative drastically cuts the amount of acreage that is available for leasing, but has seasonal initiations to protect wildlife. Whereas under Alternative 1, where most of the Pinedale planning area has some degree of seasonal limitation on its surface disturbing-activities, like restrictions to protect critical mule deer winter range or sage-grouse brood-rearing areas, Alternative 2 has very limited lands with seasonal restrictions.
This alternative examines reducing acreage with seasonal limitations to clusters of one mile-diameter areas around important habitats like winter range, watersheds, and sage grouse leks.
Lands that are protected under the 1988 plan with seasonal limitations would mostly be open for leasing with standard stipulations.
Alternative 2 also increases the numbers of allowed AUMs, by activating suspended non-use AUMs. About 50,000 more AUMs would be allowed. However, OHV use in the Desert General Area would be restricted to existing roads and trails.
This alternative swings in the other direction from Alternative 2, looking to provide “maximum” levels of environmental protections rather than “adequate”. About half the acreage that is now available for leasing would be unavailable, including heavily-protested areas like the Ryegrass/Cottonwood district, the Wind River Front and the lands east and north of Big Piney to about the limits of the Pinedale Mesa.
In addition, no-surface-occupancy (NSO) stipulations would be attached to 865,300 acres of crucial big game winter ranges and migration routes, as well as to 151,290 acres of important parturition areas. Timing and distance measures would still be applied to protect sagegrouse, raptor and big game habitats.
AUMs would be cut as well, from the just over 100,000 now allowed, to 84,000. OHV use, as with Alternative 2, would be limited in the Desert General Use Area to existing roads.
The BLM’s Preferred Alternative tries to strike a middle line between the pro-development Alternative 2 and the pro-environment Alternative 3. This alternative “is designed to evaluate the impacts of optimizing production of oil and gas resources while providing the appropriate level of environmental protections.”
The allowable acres for oil and gas leasing would be cut by about 2,000 acres, to 1,024,880. A swath of land stretching out from the Ryegrass/Cottonwood, then running southward, parallel to the Mesa, before cutting in below Big Piney, would have NSO stipulations. Land north and east of Cora, which is now unavailable, would be switched to available with NSO restrictions, while part of the Wind River Front southeast of Boulder would be made unavailable.
This alternative maintains the current number of AUMs, and also limits OHV use in the desert to present roads and trails.
Under the Preferred Alternative, air quality was addressed by noting that impacts of management actions should be minimized by complying with applicable laws and regulations. The EIS adds, “Implement management actions in the planning area to improve air quality as practicable.”
As more land is leased for oil and gas development, the BLM acknowledges that in Alternative 4, quantities of air pollutants like nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organice compounds (VOCs), as well as sulfur oxide, will increase. Using 2001 as a base year, with a level of 7,724 tons of NOx emissions per year, the BLM estimates that by 2021, NOx emissions will have risen to 23,170 tons per year.
Under the current management plan, the BLM expects drilling to impact the workforce by supporting “more than 10,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs on average per year” during the 20 year planning period.” Alternative 4 would support slightly fewer jobs.
Predictions on who will be upset, pleased by Alternative 4 The BLM predicts that implementation of Alternative 4 would cause “dissatisfaction” among groups such as “conservationists, nonmotorized recreation groups, and other wildlife protection groups.”
These groups, the agency predicts, “would likely perceive a decreased quality of life as a result of well drilling and field development.” “However, others in the community, such as local business interests, long-term residents, and local and state government representatives, might support further development activities, which they might feel increases the economic and cultural diversity of the areas and increases the overall standard of living,” the document states.
Public Comment Period
Public comment on this draft is welcomed by the agency until May 18, 2007. Physical copies of comments can be delivered or mailed to Pinedale Field Office, attn: Kellie Roadifer, 432 East Mill Street, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale, Wyoming, 82941. Electronic comments can be submitted to PRMP_WYMail@blm.gov.
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