Over the past few weeks, Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Helen Hankins has come under fire in the press, from local community leaders and others for her skewed and unbalanced approach to public land use.
A former superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument recently took Dir. Hankins to task in a Denver Post column, calling her drilling proposals ‘irresponsible’.
“Unfortunately, things are out of balance in Colorado. Bureau of Land Management state director Helen Hankins has proposed oil and gas leasing next to both Dinosaur National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.” – Denny Huffman, former Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent, Irresponsible drilling proposals for national parks, Denver Post, January 29, 2013
In December, the current superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument publicly stated that the Monument had asked Hankins to defer or withdraw the leases, specially citing the following concerns:
“Our concerns would be cumulative impacts on air quality, on groundwater quantity and quality, night skies, soundscapes, migration routes of animals … and potential impacts on the endangered fish species in the rivers.” – Mary Risser, superintendent, Dinosaur National Monument, “North Fork oil, gas leasing protested,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, 18 December 2012.
Following public outcry and concerns raised by the current superintendent of the Monument, Dir. Hankins deferred the leases bordering Dinosaur National Monument from the upcoming February lease sale.
The North Fork leases originally scheduled for sale in 2012 generated 3,000 public comments from the valley’s 9,500 residents, most in opposition. At a recent meeting with Colorado BLM, the town of Crawford raised concerns about one of the lease parcels located close to the town’s elementary school, popular hiking trail and transmissions lines.
While a local realtor in the North Fork Valley is:
“already seeing significant economic impacts from the mere threat of leasing happening, not even the lease sale going through.”
In a recent press release about Colorado BLM’s White River draft oil and gas resource management plan, sportsmen groups pointed to the BLM’s use of ‘seriously outdated information on mule deer numbers’, saying that:
“The BLM’s plan to allow up to 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin could be nothing short of a death sentence for one of the country’s largest mule deer herds and the greater sage-grouse, a species already teetering on the brink of no return.’’ – Kate Zimmerman, National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director, Wildlife Groups blast BLM plan for Colo,’s White River, January 30, 2013
John Ellenberger, the state’s former big game manager, said the BLM plan is full of holes and doesn’t address some basic issues, including how baseline data on wildlife will be gathered. He called the management approach that could result in high levels of disturbance in key wildlife habitat “unprecedented.’’ – Wildlife Groups blast BLM plan for Colo,’s White River, January 30, 2013.
Earlier this week, the Delta County Independent reported that Dir. Hankins refused requests from local community groups to meet and discuss the proposed leases, and at a recent Paonia Town Council meeting Dir. Hankins didn’t allow any questions from the public.
Jim Ramey, director of Citizens For A Healthy Community (CHC), said last Friday:
“We were greatly disappointed that state director Hankins …ignored our request for them to meet with community residents. We have consistently called upon the BLM to hold a public hearing in order to communicate directly with the concerned residents of the North Fork Valley, and the UFO and BLM’s Colorado office have consistently refused.” – Explanations do little to soothe concerns, Delta County Independent, January 31, 2013
The BLM answered questions from town council members only, making it clear they would not address any questions from the audience. – Explanations do little to soothe concerns, Delta County Independent, January 31, 2013
A new Colorado Pols blog, State BLM office spins fiction, Flubs North Fork PR tour, takes Dir. Hankins and the Colorado BLM office to task for misrepresenting facts – including not knowing their own mission.
This all seems to point to the Colorado BLM’s confounding confusion about its actual mission in managing the public’s lands. For instance State Director Hankins has claimed that “The first goal of the Department of Interior is to work towards energy independence.”
But that’s not what the Department of Interior states, on its website, in a section entitled Our Mission: Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future.
“The US Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.”
The blog also calls out Dir. Hankins and her staff for not listening to the concerns of residents and business owners in Paonia, citing a quote from the town’s mayor:
“So (here’s) what I heard this morning, we heard a lot from BLM on process, and it didn’t really answer people’s questions. People felt not heard, although we all sat here and we tried to convey. I’ve heard the word ‘condescending.” – Paonia mayor Neil Schwieterman, Crowd gathers to question BLM in Paonia, KNVF Radio, January 23, 2013