Op-Ed: BLM Lease of Public Land for Drilling Endangers Colorado's Wildlife

Op-Ed: BLM Lease of Public Land for Drilling Endangers Colorado's Wildlife
Hannah Gartner
I’ve lived on the Front Range of Colorado for the majority of my adult life. In all those years, I’ve fallen in love with Colorado’s mountains, the wildlife that live here, and the inner peace and tranquility I feel after spending some time wandering here. With every passing year, I fall deeper in love as I visit new places and parks throughout the state.

Fortunately, I am blessed to live in a state that is largely made up of public lands that I can easily access and visit. However, recent oil and gas leasing proposals from the Trump administration are putting these places at risk.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit North Park near Walden, Colorado. Along with Hispanic Access Foundation and Bus for Outdoor Access and Teaching, my church community and I made the trip north in hopes of spotting some of the moose population that’s made North Park “the moose viewing capital of Colorado.” I’d only ever caught a glimpse of a moose before, and the thought of over 600 of them roaming the area was hard to believe.

click to enlarge Linda Sosa - COURTESY OF LINDA SOSA
Linda Sosa
Courtesy of Linda Sosa
After settling into our cabins, we gathered to explore our surroundings for the night. We were greeted by snow, the reservoir, and the stunning landscape of North Park. Though our opportunities to hike were dwindling due to the weather, we didn’t let it stop us from our fun: We threw snowballs, melted snow on camp stoves for hot water, and took in the views of our winter wonderland. Breathing the fresh air and feeling the mountains’ familiar embrace rejuvenated me and reminded me of how fortunate I am to have these experiences so close to my home — but not everyone has as many public lands nearby that they can freely explore.

Every new experience I have on Colorado’s public lands teaches me something about my state, the specific place and often myself. But this time, I also learned troubling news that threatens the future of North Park. In September 2019, the BLM auctioned 33 leases, totaling more than 21,000 acres, in North Park for oil and gas drilling. Furthermore, the BLM is proposing to sell an additional 14 leases, totaling nearly 14,000 acres, in an upcoming lease sale during March 2020.

What that means is that all the hunters, campers, and wildlife viewers that visit North Park could lose the undeveloped access to these public lands they currently enjoy. It means that habitat for the more than 600 moose that live in North Park could be irreparably damaged. In addition to limiting access to visitors and damaging wildlife habitats, the Trump administration is also going against Governor Jared Polis’s executive order that is meant to “better conserve Colorado’s big game winter range and wildlife migration corridors.” Several of the leases proposed for March are within sensitive big game habitats, including winter range and migration corridors.

Proximity to public lands in Colorado is part of what makes our life here so special, and protecting them and their wildlife habitats is our shared responsibility. As part of that responsibility, we must raise our collective voice against the lease sales proposed in North Park by the BLM. We must urge Congress to protect these public lands from oil and gas drilling in order to preserve our access to visit them, the livelihoods and way of life that depend on this access, and the habitats of the wildlife that call them home.

Denver resident Linda Sosa is a leader in Denver’s Latino community and works with Iglesia San Cayetano.

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