The U.S. Forest Service Monday gutted a federal oil and gas lease auction scheduled for Thursday, removing approximately 67,000 acres of national forest in southwest Colorado deemed sensitive wildlife habitat by environmentalists and state and local government officials.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management auction, originally slated for 133,000 acres, is now down to about 12,000 acres after Monday’s action and another earlier round of deferrals.
According to the Telluride Daily Planet, most of the 67,000 acres removed Monday were in surrounding San Miguel County, where county commissioners, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and environmentalists filed formal complaints against the auction in January.
“It’s what we all wanted, absolutely,” Hilary White, executive director of the conservation group Sheep Mountain Alliance, told the Daily Planet. “Now that we have a little more breathing room,… we’re going to be looking a little more closely at how [oil and gas drilling operations] interact with habitat.”
The paper also reported the Forest Service will now review the complaints before deciding whether to do a more detailed study. A total of 57 parcels in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest were withdrawn.
According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the BLM sale on the remaining 12,000 acres is still on for Thursday, but officials will be carefully screening for fake bids after an environmental activist made $1.8 million in bogus bids in an auction in Utah in December.
That entire sale, which involved parcels in and around some of the state’s key national parks, including Arches and Canyonlands, was reversed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar last week.