Wildlife defenders take a stand

By Charlie MeyersThe Denver Post

Amid the continuing bad news from the Roan Plateau and other energy development hotspots, one light continues to shine brightly. Even in the face of political sellouts and unbending bureaucrats, defenders of wildlife values keep slugging away with an organized determination that should serve their cause well, now and in future battles.

Following the dictates of their Washington, D.C., masters, regional operatives of the Bureau of Land Management have announced plans to expand leasing beyond these earlier centers to include key parcels that will impact high-country wildlife habitat.

A planned Nov. 8 auction of 189,000 acres in 170 scattered parcels includes public land in Jackson, Grand, Moffat and Dolores counties. These contain big-game wintering range, important sage grouse habitat, and streams that contain wild and native trout populations.

Wildlife proponents, caught by surprise, have been quick to react.

"This lease sale is indicative of the BLM and its mad rush to drill new country, despite the existing values these places harbor," said Scott Linn of Granby, president of the Colorado Rivers Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. "For sportsmen, this sale could be a real mess and the fact that we're just hearing about it is troubling."

Even as wildlife advocates fight this new fire, the battle continues on the Roan Plateau, where state officials join conservation groups in trying to limit damage that seems to spread daily. From road kills to outright poaching by energy workers to general environmental degradation, the Roan has become a symbol for all that's wrong with this push by the Bush administration to give developers everything they want.

As a case in point, the BLM determination to drop the drilling boundaries along three streams - Trapper, Northwater and the East Fork of Parachute Creek - holding remnant populations of threatened Colorado River cutthroat trout down the slopes above the streams.

"We wanted to keep the drilling along the tops of the ridges to reduce sediment going into the streams," said JT Romatzke, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "If the leases go through, the wells will be all over it."

At the same time, the Colorado Mule Deer Association has filed a protest over another BLM ploy to intensify drilling along South Parachute Gap. In conjunction with the Colorado and National Wildlife Foundations, CMDA has appealed to BLM's state director as part of an action it plans to force all the way to the Internal Board of Land Appeals.

"We hope to force BLM to start managing the land as they're supposed to do, to get the oil companies to tell us what they propose to do," said Bob Elderkin of Silt, a member of CMDA's board of directors and retired BLM employee.

Considering that BLM seems determined to flaunt whatever blurred rules it uses to direct these operations, court action may be required to sort things out. Should proponents choose that alternative, one beneficial result could be a delay in development of certain sensitive areas until the administration changes early in 2009.

Meanwhile, wildlife advocates continue a fight that the wild places of Colorado can't afford to lose.