Hunters and anglers disappointed in BLM decision to move forward with Roan leasing

March 13, 2008 

Sportsmen vow to seek legislative solution to protecting fish and game habitat RIFLE—Hunters and anglers across Colorado expressed  disappointment on Thursday with a federal Bureau of Land Management decision to disregard input from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and push ahead with plans to lease public lands atop the Roan Plateau for natural gas drilling.  However, members of Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau, a coalition of hunting and angling groups from all over the state, view the BLM decision as an opportunity to work closely with the state and its federal delegation to arrive at a solution that protects intact habitat for native trout and trophy herds of deer and elk on the Roan. “It’s unfortunate the BLM has chosen not to implement stronger protections when it comes to critical fish and wildlife habitat on the Roan,” said Ken Neubecker, a Carbondale resident and Vice President of Colorado Trout Unlimited, one of the coalition’s member organizations. “In 2003 the BLM has acknowledged in its review of environmentally critical areas on the Roan Plateau that Colorado River cutthroats need watershed scale protection, but now the agency is unwilling to provide the full level of protection that these rare trout warrant.” In December 2007, the state submitted recommendations that would have altered the BLM’s plans to allow drilling in areas atop the Roan critical to fragile populations of native Colorado River cutthroat trout, as well as habitat used extensively by mule deer, elk, black bears, mountain lions and other wildlife. The state proposed increasing the acreage dubbed “areas of critical environmental concern,” a move that would have been a step in the right direction for protecting places important to fish, wildlife and sportsmen.  “Gov. Ritter outlined a thoughtful compromise proposal in December. Almost three months later, the BLM brushes aside the governor’s request and simply announces that it is sticking with its own unacceptable plan,” said Suzanne O’Neil of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, another member group of the coalition. “The BLM’s plan includes shrinking the areas of critical environmental concern for wildlife protection from the 36,000 acres recommended by the Division of Wildlife and endorsed by the governor, to 21,000 acres.”  Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau will now focus its efforts on working with Colorado’s Congressional delegation.  “I think the only way to get the message across to the BLM’s management is to achieve legislative protection for an area that, without it, will be forever changed for the worse,” said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “We are not against development in the region, but protecting entire drainages with cutthroat trout and not sacrificing big game habitat is critical in the BLM’s Roan Plateau Planning Area, an area that is just 1.5 percent of the natural gas-rich Piceance Basin.”  Future legislation should protect big game winter range, fawning and calving habitats and migration corridors, as well as protecting entire drainages with Colorado River cutthroat trout including Northwater Creek, Trapper Creek and the East Fork of Parachute Creek.  “Recent events show that even careful development of natural gas resources in terrain as challenging as that on the Roan can be disastrous,” said Fisher. He referenced the spill of at least 1.2 million gallons of drilling mud that occurred over the winter on private land just west of the Roan Plateau Planning Area—much of that potentially toxic material is contained within snow and ice on the west side of the plateau, and will make its way downstream into the West Fork of Parachute Creek and eventually the Colorado River with spring runoff. Parachute Creek does contain native cutthroat trout, as well as other introduced trout that could be impacted by the spill.  

“Leasing and drilling in areas critical to these rare populations of cutthroat trout and to big game could spell doom for these wildlife populations, and the opportunity to fish and hunt for them.”

Contact:  Corey Fisher, (970) 589-9196 - Suzanne O’Neill, (303) 919-3949 - Ken Neubecker (970) 376-1918