When Gov. Bill Ritter made a proposal late last year urging the Bureau of Land Management to expand protection of the Roan, it was with full understanding that he had no real authority to make it stick. Which makes one wonder why an avowed wildlife-friendly governor wouldn't ask for the broader safeguards the habitat really deserves, if for no other reason than good public relations.
After all, his counterparts to the north and south — Dave Freudenthal in Wyoming and Bill Richardson in New Mexico — had made what seemed like grandstand plays on resource protection involving federal oil and gas leasing and pulled it off.
The Roan issue involves 67,000 acres of public land sought for lease by various energy companies in concert with a massive leasing initiative in the fading months of the George W. Bush administration.
Ritter's request to increase the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) excluded an important refuge for a remnant population of Colorado River cutthroat trout on Northwater Creek, a puzzling omission considering the Division of Wildlife is busily promoting restoration of this threatened species.
It should be noted that Roan public lands represent just 1.5 percent of the land base in the greater Piceance Basin. Further, half the BLM's Roan Plateau Planning Area already is owned or leased by the natural gas industry. Drilling already is occurring on many of these lands.
"We would have liked Gov. Ritter's proposal to be more protective," said Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited. "Why Northwater Creek isn't included is a mystery."
The overall thrust by the omnibus group Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau is for balance. The notion is that preserving this relatively small part of Colorado's Western Slope would help bring at least some measure of environmental equilibrium to an area already torn apart by energy development.
"They can get to 80 percent of the gas without disturbing the ridges or key watersheds," Hunt said.
It might be argued that the Roan — and other energy-rich areas around the nation — was toast when the nation pulled the lever for George W. Bush more than three years ago. Politicians almost always choose their fading term to repay the most contentious campaign debts without fear of retribution from an electorate denied the use of tar and feathers.
One potential avenue for Trout Unlimited and other wildlife groups is to file a lawsuit that might stall Roan leasing pending a change in administration in Washington.
While the state of Colorado has no official leverage in the granting of BLM leases, it isn't without clout when it comes to enforcing certain regulations concerning the impact of energy development on public health, safety and welfare.
Last year, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation requiring the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to revise its rules by July 1, 2008, to reflect these concerns, as well as set standards to minimize impacts on wildlife resources.
Through this process, sportsmen have the opportunity to comment or endorse the guidelines established by the Colorado Wildlife Federation and Colorado Mule Deer Association and endorsed by Trout Unlimited.
Submit these to: COGCC Rulemaking, c/o Department of Natural Resources, 1313 Sherman St. Room 718, Denver, CO 80203.