Need for a Resource Management Plan Amendment
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Farmington Field Office (FFO) is in the process of amending their 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) to address potential expansion of oil and gas development in the Mancos/Gallup Formation. The Mancos/Gallup Formation lies beneath millions of acres of federal, state, private, and tribal lands in northeastern New Mexico. The FFO Resource Management Plan Amendment will apply to all surface and subsurface mineral estate under BLM jurisdiction within a 4.2 million acre planning area extending into eastern San Juan County, western Rio Arriba County, northern Sandoval County, and northeastern McKinley County. At the time the 2003 RMP was completed, it was believed this formation had been fully developed. However, with advancements in drilling technology and hydraulic fracturing, development has again become economically viable. By law, the BLM is required to either amend or revise a RMP when new information becomes available that may have a significant impact on one or more resources. An Environmental Impact Statement accompanies these RMP changes. The Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) will amend sections of the 2003 RMP that address fluid leasable minerals, vegetation management, lands and realty, and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. The associated EIS will outline the environmental impacts of a range of management alternatives within each of these categories.
Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and BLM Planning
Over 30,000 acres of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs) have been documented on lands managed by the Farmington Field Office during inventories conducted by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2014 and 2015. Although these lands may meet the BLM’s wilderness characteristics criteria, this alone does not guarantee their wilderness qualities will be preserved. The BLM can formally recognize these areas as having wilderness characteristics in the RMPA, and can also decide to manage them for preservation of these characteristics for the life of the plan. Without this recognition, these wilderness-quality lands become fair game for oil and gas leasing or other uses that could alter their cultural and ecological integrity and future wilderness potential. Protection of LWC units adjacent to the Bisti-de-na-zin Wilderness and current Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) contributes to preservation of a contiguous corridor of undeveloped landscapes – both natural and cultural – in an area under great pressure from oil and gas development.
Protecting the Greater Chaco Landscape and Visual Resources of Chaco Culture National Historic Park
About one-third of LWCs identified in the Farmington area are adjacent to existing Wilderness or WSAs. The remaining 10,000 acres encompass a portion of Crow Mesa. With close proximity to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and location within the greater Chaco landscape, many of these units contain archeological resources similar to those found within the park.
Current planning for oil and gas development includes BLM lands adjacent to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and within the range of known Chacoan archeological sites. In addition to advocating for recognition and protection of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has protested oil and gas lease sales within the viewshed of Chaco Culture National Historical Park to protect archeological resources outside of the park and the scenic vistas and dark night skies that contribute to the overall park experience.
What Makes These Areas Special?
Geological and Paleontological Resources
Layers of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt have eroded into an unusual landscape comprised of strange rock formations. Amid these geologic layers, a diverse assemblage of well-preserved fossils (petrified logs, leaves, and turtles to name a few) reveal a slice of Earth’s biological history.
Contiguous human occupation in this area dates back over 10,000 years. Diverse cultural resources are present throughout this region of northwestern New Mexico.
These areas are considered part of the greater cultural landscape of the Chaco Culture and hold cultural significance for Puebloan and Dineh peoples, as well.
Wildlife and Habitat
Diverse vegetation combines with rugged terrain to provide habitat for an array of species including turkey, mule deer, black bear, elk, and raptors such as the ferruginous hawk, a candidate endangered species.
Preserving these lands enhances recreational opportunities for local communities and area visitors and helps retain the unique scenic value of these often surreal landscapes. Activities such as hiking, sightseeing, backpacking, climbing, hunting, camping, birdwatching, and photography could all be enhanced by protection.
Public Involvement is Key!
Federal law requires the BLM to involve the public throughout the planning process. Public scoping for the RMPA occurred from February through May of 2014; the Final Public Scoping Report was released in November of 2014. The Assessment of the Management Situation, which lays the groundwork for the RMPA, was completed in March 2015. At this point in time, the RMPA draft is slated for release in fall of 2016 (note, this is one year later than previous timelines released by the Farmington Field Office). Its release will trigger a 90-day public comment period. This extended timeline provides an excellent opportunity to increase local and national support for protection of these lands. Your help is needed to spread the word about this planning process and recruit supporters for land protection. Add your name HERE to stay updated on Action Alerts.
Participate in the Management of YOUR Public Lands
The 90-day public comment period provides an opportunity for YOU to express your concerns about the management guidelines proposed in the RMPA. By law, the BLM must consider and address these concerns in the RMPA finalization process. The Farmington Field Office will also hold a series of public meetings during this time. You can find updated information about the RMPA process on their planning page at http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/fo/Farmington_Field_Office/ffo_planning/farmington_rmp/rmpa_mancos.html.
What You Can Do
- Stay informed via our Farmington Action mailing list. Add your name HERE.
- Visit the Farmington Field Office Planning page online.
- Review the posted public documents.
- When it is released, take time to review the draft RMPA.
- If you wish to comment, consider attending one of our comment writing workshops. These will be ongoing in the local area throughout the comment period.
- Attend public meetings to stay informed, learn about the perspectives of community members, and talk directly with BLM personnel.
- Encourage your friends, family, and larger community to get involved and stay involved. After all, these are OUR public lands!
Tentative Planning Schedule
Fall 2015—Fall 2016: Resource data collection, development of alternatives, and preparation of draft RMPA and draft EIS
Fall 2016: Tentative release of draft RMPA and draft EIS
Fall 2016—Early Winter 2017: Revise RMP and EIS 90-day comment period and public meetings for RMPA and EIS drafts
Winter 2017—Early Winter 2018: Prepare proposed RMPA and Final EIS
Winter 2018: 30-day public review and protest period
Winter—Spring 2018: Finalize RMP with Record of Decision