University of Colorado at Boulder
BMP of Oil and Gas Development

Southern Ute Tribe Laws

The Southern Ute reservation has a population of about 1,200 people. The Tribe’s reservation covers about 820,000 acres of land near the New Mexico border in the southwest corner of Colorado. The governing body of the Tribal Government is the South Ute Indian Tribal Council. The Council is comprised of seven members. The Chairman is elected by the Tribal membership every three years. There are six council members, and each year tribal members elect two Council members for a term of three years. Tribal headquarters are located near Ignacio, Colorado. Oil and gas development on the Southern Ute Reservation is governed primarily by federal environmental and leasing regulations as well as tribal constitutional principles.

The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for administering the natural resources of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The mission statement of the Southern Ute DNR requires the DNR to develop and manage resources for the benefit of the Tribe while promoting “protection, conservation, preservation, and developmental enhancement of the Tribe's natural resource by using sound administrative, ecological, cultural, socioeconomic and educational methods for the benefit of present and future generations. The Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resource Management is responsible for managing, protecting, and enhancing the diverse fish and wildlife resources of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation." The agency’s duties include developing Tribal wildlife management programs and policies and working with the Federal and State agencies to manage threatened and endangered species. Under §13-1-103 the Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resources Management is responsible for management of the Tribe’s wildlife, including planning and implementing biological evaluations, habitat protection and enhancement activities, and the implementation of cooperative management agreements with owners of private property, states, and the federal government. Wildlife regulations are enforced by the Southern Ute Natural Resources Enforcement Division as laid out in § 13-1-104.

Constitution of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation

The Constitution of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe was approved in 1936 and revised and adopted September 26th, 1975. Although the Southern Ute Constitution does not contain explicit provisions concerning the environment or gas and oil regulation, it does contain provisions establishing the jurisdiction and powers of the council to make the necessary rules and regulations to regulate those activities. It also provides guiding principles for land use on the reservations. The relevant portions of the Constitution include:

The jurisdiction of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe through its general council, its tribal council and courts, shall extend to all the territory within the exterior boundaries of the reservation, and to such other lands as may be added thereto by purchase, gift, Act of Congress or otherwise.

§ 1. The inherent powers of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, including those set forth in Section 16 of the Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984), as amended, shall be exercised by the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council, subject only to limitations imposed by the Constitution and Statutes of the United States, by the regulations of the Department of the Interior and by this constitution. The tribal council shall be empowered to:

(b) Authorize and regulate tribal associations, corporations and subordinate organizations for economic and other purposes, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized representative whenever required by law, and may transfer tribal assets thereto for management and control;

(c) Any encumbrance, sale, lease, permit, assignment, or management of any portion of the reservation, or the grant of any rights to use of lands or other assets, or the grant or relinquishment of any water or mineral rights or other natural or fiscal assets of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, are hereby reserved to the tribal council.

(d) Advise the Secretary of the Interior and heads of other Federal Agencies with regard to all appropriation estimates or Federal projects for the benefit of the Southern Ute Indians of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

The reservation land now unallotted shall remain tribal property and shall not be allotted to individuals in severalty, but assignment of land for private use may be made by the tribal council in conformity with ordinances which may be adopted on this subject, PROVIDED, the vested rights of members of the tribe are not violated.

Southern Ute Indian Tribal Code and Ordinances

The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Code and Ordinances are difficult to find as the Tribe has not widely distributed the code to legal databases. Through the various tribal agencies pieces of the code can be found online. See the following for a brief outline of provisions most relevant to oil and gas development.

Title 13 Wildlife Conservation Code

Wildlife is addressed in Title 13 of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Code, titled “The Southern Ute Wildlife Conservation Code.” The complete wildlife code, discussed in part below, can be found in full on the website of the Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resource Management.

13-1-101. General
(1) Legislative Declaration. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe finds and declares that it is the policy of this Tribe:

(b) That species of wildlife indigenous to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation are the property of the Tribe and should be accorded protection in order to maintain and enhance their numbers. All matters relating to the conservation, regulation, control and manage­ment of the wildlife resources of the Reservation are subject to the jurisdiction of the Tribe.

(c) That tribal members and non-tribal members have historically been accorded different rights within the Reservation. It is recog­nized that members of the Tribe have a preferred right and interest in and to the wildlife resources of the Reservation, and that the Tribe has a legitimate right to establish the rules and standards to govern the action of members and non-members of the Tribe on the subject of wildlife regulation. The Tribal Council shall have the authority to adopt any regulation for the implementation of the policies of this Tribal Wildlife Conservation Code, and to alter or amend such regulations as conditions indicate.

(d) All wildlife now or hereafter found within the Reservation not held by private ownership lawfully acquired are hereby declared to be the property of the Tribe, and the right, title, interest or property therein cannot be acquired or transferred or possession thereof had and maintained except as ex­pressly provided herein. The Tribe's management responsibility for such wildlife, however, may be dependent on agreements with other governmental agencies and private landowners.

13-3-122. Unlawful Taking or Possession of Wildlife. It is unlawful for any person to take, attempt to take, or possess any wildlife or part thereof, whether or not such wildlife is alive or dead, unless permitted by this Code or wildlife regulations. Any person who violates this section, depending upon the wildlife involved, shall be subject to a civil penalty in the amount set in the schedule of civil penalties adopted by the Tribal Council.

Title 21 Minerals Severance Tax

Title 21 of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Code is a Severance Tax Code which applies to gas and oil extracted from tribal lands. Relevant provisions of the code include:

Art. 1 General Provisions

The purposes of this Severance Tax Code are as follows:

(1) To impose a tax upon the severance of non-renewable energy minerals from tribal trust lands, tribally owned fee lands, and allotted or restricted lands within the boundaries of the Reservation;

Art. 2 Tax and Liability

“Oil and Gas Tax Imposed. A tax is hereby imposed on the severance of any and all oil, condensate, natural gas, methane gas, casing head gas, or processed gas and associated liquid products from lands subject to the taxing jurisdiction of the Tribe. Notwithstanding the foregoing, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide gas are specifically exempt from this severance tax, unless said substances or their constituent components are produced and sold commercially.”

“Rate of Tax. The severance tax set forth herein shall be at the rate of 6.5% of the value of all substances described in Section 21-2-101 severed from lands subject to the jurisdiction of the Tribe.”

Guidance: Exploration & Production Operator’s Compliance Manual
for Energy Development Projects on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation

The “Exploration & Production Operator’s Compliance Manual for Energy Development Projects on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation .” provides guidance to Exploration and Production (E&P) Operators on the processes for obtaining 1) authorization to drill an oil and gas (O&G) well and 2) right-of-way (ROW) easements and surface leases on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation (SUIR). This document also provides stormwater, air permit and spill response compliance guidance for E&P Operators on the SUIR. In addition to traditional environmental controls like NEPA compliance, the manual also instructs operators to contract an archaeologist and a biologist to conduct cultural resources and endangered species surveys The manual does not provide relevant laws and regulations, however. [See excerpts from this manual, PDF].

Additional Resources

Status of Mineral Resource Information for the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, Colorado. Discusses the mineral composition of the reservation.

Atlas of Oil & Gas Plays. Describes Oil & gas on the reservation.

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