Federal plan to auction mineral rights near Great Sands Dunes National Park opposed by environmentalists

Plans by a federal agency to auction off mineral rights on 18,000 acres near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to oil and gas drillers has placed Colorado at the center of growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s energy-production initiatives.

Environmentalists want to block the federal Bureau of Land Management’s push to lease out the mineral rights of 11 parcels near the sand dunes for energy development. They say drilling on those parcels will disrupt fragile ecosystems, harm tourism and put wildlife species at risk.

The concerns include potential damage to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, a fish that environmentalists have unsuccessfully sought to have protected under the endangered species act. Elk herds prevalent in the area could be diminished, and air and water quality could be damaged, the conservationists contend.

Ten of the parcels slated for auction this summer are within eight miles of the sand dunes, and a portion of the 11th parcel is within a mile of the dunes.

The move follows a push by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to hasten energy development on federal lands and to ease drilling restrictions. The changes his agency has adopted since Trump took office include offering increased onshore and offshore federal gas acreage for leasing coupled with a speedier permitting process.

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