Roan a rare treasure

Denver Post guest commentary Sharon Lance

A Denver Post editorial earlier this month on the Bureau of Land Management's plan to lease and drill on the Roan Plateau missed the mark — perhaps most egregiously by claiming off-site development like that proposed by U.S. Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar might actually be detrimental to the Roan's wildlife.

The editorial states that "horizontal drilling operations could actually increase the risk of harm to the wildlife that use the base of the plateau for their winter range." Folks, that ship has sailed. Much of the Roan's "winter range" is already being drilled and is a network of industrial-grade roads pocked by graded well pads and frequented daily by 18-wheeled trucks that transport materials and manpower to any number of rigs and working wells.

Further destroying deer and elk habitat is not what the Salazar-Udall provision is about. Public lands in the Roan Plateau Planning Area cover 67,000 acres, just 1.5 percent of the entire Piceance Basin. The only habitat left to protect on the Roan is that small percentage of undisturbed backcountry on top of the plateau and the remaining deer and elk winter range at the base that sportsmen have identified as priceless. No gradual development plans put forth by the BLM — even those that require reclamation — would spare this important island in a sea of oil and gas development from the drill bit.

The Salazar-Udall provision would have protected habitat, not sacrificed it. What is needed is a moratorium on further leasing until a plan is in place that allows for continued, responsible development on the half of the Roan that is leased or owned by industry, while keeping the other half as it is today for tomorrow's sportsmen.

Worries that Colorado's treasury won't get the most out of the Roan if industry can't access all of the plateau's buried gas are unfounded and quite honestly disingenuous. Much of the Roan's gas could be accessed using directional drilling from land outside the planning area and from those lands that have already been trashed. The Salazar-Udall provision would have allowed for this. The long- term harm to local economies by sacrificing the entire plateau to drilling will far outweigh the initial windfall Colorado would see in gas royalties.

Communities like Rifle, Parachute and Meeker understand the long-term economic benefit of keeping at least some of northwestern Colorado's fish and game habitat intact.

A 2006 study commissioned by the 2005 Energy Policy Act found that 90 percent of the public, BLM-managed land in the basin is already available for leasing. The notion that keeping drilling rigs, industrial-grade roads and razed well pads off of one tiny section of a huge natural gas field would hamstring the energy industry and the state's treasury is simply laughable, and The Post's editorial board should have checked its facts.

Drilling the top of the Roan would be an irrevocable mistake — one that would forever sacrifice trophy elk and deer habitat and hunting opportunity, and two genetically pure populations of rare Colorado River cutthroat trout that are of keen value to adventurous anglers.

What remains of the Roan is simply too valuable to sacrifice for short-term profit.

Sharon Lance ( is past president of the Colorado Council of Trout Unlimited and member of the board of trustees.