If you were asked to name Colorado’s most iconic landscapes, it would be quite difficult to choose. But South Park, the largest of three high elevation grassland basins in central Colorado, should be featured among those leading such a list. As you well know, South Park includes world-class fisheries with include miles of nationally-treasured gold medal streams and thousands of acres of water resources that keep the largely unfragmented big game and other wildlife habitats intact.
It also provides much of the drinking water for Denver and Aurora. The local community of hunters, anglers, hikers, and other recreationists, as well as many others who travel to South Park for these pursuits highly value the outdoor opportunities it offers and have advocated for keeping all intact for years. Chances are South Park is an important piece of your outdoor identity as you spend countless afternoons and weekends enjoying all it has to offer.
Because South Park is a special place that is worth safeguarding – it’s so critical that we gain a good management plan for its public lands. In June 2019, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft management plan for the public lands it manages in South Park (as well as Eastern Colorado). This plan largely reflects input from Park County, local community stakeholders, water providers, and hunting, angling and other groups, on how to protect South Park’s fish, wildlife, and water resources if there is future oil and gas development. However, the BLM must take steps to strengthen this plan before it goes final.
And, given that a federal judge recently ordered the Biden administration to resume oil and gas leasing on public lands, it is critical that BLM finalize the plan for South Park as soon as possible. If future leasing were to take place in South Park without the right safeguards, significant harm could be done to some of the best fish and wildlife habitat in our state.
Changes to the plan that the BLM must make include directing any future oil and gas development away from South Park’s largely unfragmented elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and mule deer sensitive habitat on public lands. In addition, it should close big game migration corridors or movement routes to leasing. These are two of the changes that BLM can make to its draft plan to protect South Park’s fish, wildlife, and water resources. It is time to ensure the plan prioritizes protection of the fish, wildlife and water resources for generations to come.
Suzanne O’Neill is the Executive Director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation