At this time of year, we all take stock of the many things for which we can be thankful. Last week, the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Interior gave Colorado hunters and anglers two more reasons to give thanks: the agencies announced two final decisions on oil and gas leasing that protect key backcountry habitats on the Roan Plateau near Rifle and the Thompson Divide near Carbondale - two of Colorado's "Last Best Places." The Roan Plateau is home to outstanding big game habitat and unique native trout like those pictured here. Trout Unlimited has been hard at work on the Roan for more than two decades, with many hundreds of volunteer hours invested by the Grand Valley Anglers chapter on habitat protection and improvement projects from instream structures to riparian fencing and replanting. TU also helped install a fish barrier to protect native cutthroat trout habitat being restored by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Throughout the past decade, Colorado TU has also been involved in advocacy and litigation to help protect the Roan in the face of proposed oil and gas development. The legal battle culminated in productive settlement talks that produced the new Roan plan that BLM approved last week. For the next 20 years, the most sensitive watersheds atop the Roan will remain unleased, while responsible development will be allowed on other areas on and around the Plateau that are closer to existing oil and gas infrastructure. Continued improvements in directional drilling technology over those years could make it possible, by the time BLM next updates the Roan plan, to extend development to natural gas reserves below the Roan without needing to sacrifice the valuable habitat on its surface. This agreement is a great example of how balance can be achieved when all parties sit down and try to listen honestly and respectfully to each other to craft a solution.
The Thompson Divide (including Thompson Creek pictured here) makes up more than 220,000 acres of federal land in Pitkin, Garfield, Gunnison and Mesa counties and contains some of Colorado's most productive habitat for big game, cutthroat trout and numerous other native species. The area is used by more than 10,000 resident and nonresident big game hunters every year and serves as the headwaters to some of Colorado’s most popular fisheries including the Roaring Fork, North Fork of the Gunnison, and Crystal River.
Concurrent with its Roan announcements, the BLM also issued a decision canceling 25 contentious oil and gas leases within the Thompson Divide (the leaseholders to be repaid from government funds), while maintaining 40 other leases in surrounding lands - mostly closer to existing development areas. As with the Roan, the decision reflects a responsible balance between protecting our most valuable fish and wildlife habitats and enabling responsible energy development to move forward on pubilc lands. Unlike the Roan, this decision does not yet reflect a larger consensus among conservationists and industry, nor does it provide longer-term protection for the Thompson Divide. The decision was a necessary victory in protecting the Thompson Divide from the imminent threat of oil and gas drilling, and TU remains committed to working with the BLM, Forest Service, ranchers, local governments, and the oil and gas industry to achieve a long-term solution that includes permanent protection of the Thompson Divide as part of a larger, responsible plan for energy development in the region.
These victories came only after many years of hard work and advocacy by Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers. For many years, we have worked in partnership with local partner coalitions to achieve balanced solutions that recognize that some areas are too special to drill, while others are important parts of meeting our nation's energy needs. The support you and our other members have given over the years enables us to tackle these vital but challenging issues, making the long-term commitment that it takes to achieve these kind of successes.