In 2019, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) for 675,800 acres of its public land along the Lower Gunnison, Uncompahgre, and San Miguel watersheds and 971,220 acres of federal mineral estate. This Uncompahgre RMP will determine the management of BLM lands in this area, collectively known as the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO), for decades to come.
The decade-long process can be slow-moving and confusing. Hopefully, we can help you get through the process without too much headache.
The Resource Management Plan (RMP) will guide all projects and activities occurring within the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO). The Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) manages nearly 900,000 acres of public land in BLM Colorado’s Southwest District, including four river systems—the Gunnison, San Miguel, Dolores, and Uncompahgre. In general, the planning area is defined by the Utah border on the west, extends just south of Telluride, and stretches all the way up to Huntsman Ridge and McClure Pass. See the map to the left for a more detailed look at what is included within the UFO planning area. Note that the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park are NOT included in the UFO planning area.
The BLM manages surface-level BLM-owned land, including National Conservation areas, National Recreation Areas, and designated Wilderness Areas. However, the BLM also manages the subsurface estate for all federally owned land, about 700 million acres (30% of the United States) held by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service and other Federal agencies and surface owners. Thus, the BLM is responsible for all energy development on federally-owned public lands.
Specifically, the UFO RMP is the underlying framework for how the BLM will manage the public land within the Uncompahgre Field Office, including which areas will be open to what types of uses and under what management. Future decisions the agency makes, like how to lease certain lands for oil and gas development or what areas are open to grazing, are generally bound by the analysis and decisions supported in the agency’s RMP. Working to get the agency to adopt the most protective plan is essential to the protection of North Fork lands and waters for decades into the future. Please note that site-specific activities are NOT authorized by the UFO RMP, but where, when, and how things can happen IS authorized.
The BLM began revising their UFO RMP in 2010. Due to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), this legislation requires all agencies to examine the environmental consequences of proposed actions and to notify the general public about any decisions that will have any adverse affects on the land. Looking at the graph to the right, you will notice the steps it takes to write a resource management plan of this nature. Also, please note the points throughout the process where the BLM is required by NEPA to ask the public for its participation. NEPA is a complex, intricate, and invaluable piece of legislation that fundamentally changed how government agencies act on our public lands. To find out more about NEPA, please check out the Council of Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) website.
Per NEPA, certain actions require varying levels of assesments. Actions that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment”, like a management plan that will affect 900,000 acres of public land, require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (such as the UFO RMP). Other actions, such as performing a prescribed burn or constructing a building on federal land, may require much less analysis (such as an Environmental Analysis, or EA). For a better look at the complexities of the process, take a look at the CEQ guide to NEPA here.
The Uncompaghre Field Office (UFO) staff began the scoping process on January 12, 2010. Since that time, the Western Slope Conservation Center (WSCC) has been participating every step of the way. If you would like to read WSCC’s responses to any of the steps listed in the chart to the right, please go here. To check out the BLM’s website for the UFO RMP planning process, please go here.
During this process, WSCC, along with a collection of other groups including but not limited to Valley Organic Growers Association, the West Elk Winery Association and others, created the North Fork Alternative Plan (NFAP). The objective of submitting the NFAP to the BLM was to ensure that the agency considered its strongest levels of protections for the North Fork Valley’s public lands resources. For additional information on the NFAP, please check out some additional resources here.