Sand Dunes
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A view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance.

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The Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday that it will delay a planned Sept. 6 lease-sale of 18,358 acres for oil and gas drilling near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado.

The Navajo Nation, which owns land in the area, asked the BLM to delay the decision, BLM spokesman Jayson Barangan said.

The lease-sale of the land still might be considered later though, Barangan said.

When the public comment period for the lease-sale opened in March, the BLM was flooded with thousands of comments, many from people who thought the leases would be in the Great Sand Dunes.

The national park is west of the Sangre de Cristo mountains; the proposed lease-sale area is outside the park’s eastern border, on the other side of the mountains, Barangan told Colorado Politics.

But the action could affect a popular trail on the park’s eastern side that crosses Medano Pass, the Sierra Club’s Kimberly Pope told Colorado Public Radio in March.

The trail “starts right where one of the leases is,” Pope said. “So people that take that trail through the park over the mountain range would definitely be impacted.”

On Tuesday, Pope said: “The deferment of the September lease sales in the Huerfano River Valley and near Great Sand Dunes National Park represents the importance of consulting directly impacted communities in the face of dirty fuels extraction. This deferment is a great victory, but the fight isn’t over.”

The Sierra Club “will work with local communities every step of the way in making sure corporate polluters don’t get their hands on the Huerfano River Valley and lands next to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness,” she said.

The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council also raised concerns, noting that some of the parcels at issue are less than 10 miles from the park and could affect water and wildlife habitats.

Colorado Democrats signed an April letter protesting the proposed sale, which includes acres in Kiowa, Weld, Washington and Lincoln counties. The lease-sales there, of about 4,000 acres, still are scheduled for September.

Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t formally object, saying the leases aren’t in the national park.

Should the lease-sale occur, Colorado would receive 49 percent of the proceeds, according to the BLM.

“This deferment is a great victory, but the fight isn’t over.” Kimberly Pope
of the Sierra Club

Chief legislative reporter

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