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BLM seeks Coloradans' input on new public lands rule

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is holding a public hearing today in Denver on its new rule, which aims to put conservation, protection of cultural resources and wildlife and recreation on equal footing with resource development on public lands.

Jerry Otero, co-chair of the group Next 100 Colorado, said he supports the proposal. Otero comes from a family with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. Both his grandfathers were miners, and many of his closest relatives have worked in the oil and gas industry.

"Certainly it has its values," Otero acknowledged. "But also let's make sure that we're balancing out those uses to incorporate the outdoor industry, which has become a big part of so many communities in Colorado."

Industry groups have criticized the proposal, which would add conservation as a priority along with drilling, mining and grazing uses of public lands. Oil and gas leasing are currently allowed on 90 percent of BLM-managed lands. The agency is holding meetings across the West, and will conclude with a virtual meeting on June 5. Public comments will be accepted through June 20.

The BLM manages more than 8 million acres of wild lands across Colorado, areas considered vital for safeguarding the state's drinking and agricultural waters, wildlife migration corridors, and the growing demand for access to the outdoors. Otero noted his group also will be watching to see how the new rule affects the state's most vulnerable communities.

"We want to make sure we're also holding the BLM accountable," Otero explained. "And see that it will be beneficial to people of color that are disproportionately impacted by oil and gas development, disproportionately impacted by climate change, disproportionately impacted by emissions and pollution."

Public opinion seems in sync with the BLM's proposal. A recent poll found 82 percent of Coloradans support the America the Beautiful initiative's goal of conserving 30  percent of the nation's lands and waters by 2030.

Otero believes conservation is critical to build resilience in the face of increasing vulnerabilities, including drought, dwindling water supplies, wildfires and other climate-related disruptions.

"So the America the Beautiful effort is really just an ambitious goal to get us in the right position to be successful," Otero contended. "If we continue down the path that we're on, in terms of losing wildlife habitat, those vulnerabilities that we're seeing will see potentially irreversible impacts."