Group: No drilling in national parks

Letter sent to Obama asking for areas to be protected

Environment Colorado, a prominent advocacy group, sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week, asking him to shield national parks from fossil fuel extraction.

The letter had 90 signatures, including city councilors, mayors, county commissioners, and conservation nonprofits from around the state.

Deborah Gangloff, president and CEO of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, was the only Montezuma County signatory.

Durango city councilors Christina Rinderle and Sweetie Marbury, as well as new La Plata County commissioner Gwen Lachelt, signed on, as did San Juan Angler, a fly fishing shop; Durango Rivertrippers; the La Plata Open Space Conservancy; and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a group of wilderness-minded seniors, also in Durango.

"Mesa Verde National Park, and many other parks all across Colorado, are where some of our families' most unforgettable memories are formed - our first hikes, our first time camping, our first encounters with wildlife," said Environment Colorado field associate Margaret McCall in a press release. "That's why (it) deserves permanent protections from pollution and drilling."

The letter calls on Obama to restore full funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his upcoming budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, and the rest of his term. The budget is already one month overdue; presidents typically release their proposals for the following fiscal year no later than the first Monday in February.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created in 1965, uses royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to pay for acquisitions of private properties, normally surrounded by or abutting existing public lands. All sales are voluntary. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 7 million acres of land, worth $9 billion, have been purchased over the fund's history.

Congress can appropriate up to $900 million annually for the fund, but that amount has only been met once, according to Bob Bendick, director of U.S. Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy. Much of it gets diverted to other areas of the federal budget.

"The annual diversion of LWCF funds to non-conservation purposes has left a long legacy of backlogged conservation projects and missed opportunities to safeguard our national heritage," the Environment Colorado letter reads.

In February, three Democratic senators introduced a bill in Congress to reauthorize the LWCF - it is due to expire in 2015 - and boost funding back to the full $900 million. Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is a cosponsor.

There is no oil and gas development inside Mesa Verde National Park, but almost 11,000 acres on eight parcels east of the park were scheduled to be leased at auction last month. At the last minute, Bureau of Land Management Colorado director Helen Hankins announced those leases would be deferred for further analysis. Local environmental groups had raised concerns that current resource management plans were outdated.

Kinder Morgan has multiple carbon dioxide wells sites within BLM/Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. Marietta Eaton, the monument's manager, said about 80 percent of Canyon of the Ancients is leased for development.