BLM ignores science, bends to DC politics on Roan Plateau

Thu, 08/07/2008

BLM ignores science, bends to DC politics on Roan Plateau

August 8, 2008

Bill Dvorak, National Wildlife Federation - (719) 221-3212
Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited - (970) 589-9196
Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation - (303) 919-3949
Dwayne Meadows, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership - (307) 742-3339
David Lien, Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers - (719) 650-6526


BLM ignores science, bends to DC politics on Roan Plateau
State, lawmaker and sportsmen objections to leases spotlight BLM’s reckless decision

RIFLE, Colo. — By moving ahead with plans to lease 55,000 acres of sensitive trout and game habitat on the Roan Plateau Aug. 14, the Bureau of Land Management is ignoring the best available science, vital input from state wildlife managers, throngs of sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts and Colorado’s elected leaders, said Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau, a coalition of 24 sportsmen’s groups working to protect hunting and angling values and the needs of fish and wildlife on the Roan Plateau.

Located in the 7,000 square mile Piceance Basin, the Roan Plateau is only 1.5 percent of this natural-gas-rich area and is half owned or leased by the energy industry already. The unleased portions of the Roan form an island of backcountry public lands in a sea of natural gas drilling and provides habitat for mule deer, elk and native cutthroat trout.

“Rather than using the best available science to determine how to best develop this public resource, the BLM is using the best available politics,” said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.  “The decision to lease the Roan isn’t being made at the local level—this is a political decision by someone sitting behind a desk 1,800 miles away in Washington. Gov. Ritter, Sen. Salazar and Congressmen Udall and Salazar have stuck their necks out for sportsmen in Colorado, and we’re grateful for it. The fact they’re being ignored, along with tens of thousands of Colorado citizens, clearly demonstrates the political motivation of this decision.”

An alternative plan introduced in Congress, based on Ritter’s recommendations to the BLM, would allow 90 percent of the natural gas under the Roan to be extracted while significantly increasing protections for trout and wildlife. By moving forward with the lease sale, the BLM is denying Congress the opportunity to consider this legislation. Among the key input that was ignored by the BLM regarding the upcoming lease sale, perhaps the most telling comes from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

“The CDOW compromised heavily in agreeing to the small ACECs [Areas of Critical Environmental Concern] in the final plan,” stated the DOW’s comments on the Roan leases, published in the BLM’s March 2008 Record of Decision. “Because we were told that the large ACECs would not be accepted by the Washington staff, the DOW agreed to compromise on smaller ACECs. We persist in communicating that larger ACECs would more fully protect Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat and other wildlife.”

In a July 30, 2008, letter protesting the Roan leases, the state of Colorado noted the BLM’s refusal to amend its management plans for the region.

“Because the BLM … is unwilling to amend the plan, it is apparent that the driving force behind the effort to lease the Roan is the November elections,” the state’s letter reads. “Given the resources at stake, the plan for the Roan must serve future generations, not political timelines.”

Under the present plan, the BLM is even ignoring the advice of its own staff. In a review of ACECs—the most sensitive areas of the Roan— the BLM itself admits that entire watersheds are important for rare, Colorado River cutthroat trout. Yet stipulations on the leases to be sold will allow development to occur in those same watersheds. In addition, the public lands at the base of the Roan Plateau are the winter range for a large mule deer herd and elk. Nineteen percent of this winter range will be lost under the BLM plan. Studies in Wyoming indicate that it only takes a 2 percent loss of mule deer winter range to start seeing the effects of drilling, and also that in development densities like those that will occur on the Roan, timing limitations do not effectively limit disturbance to wintering deer.

“Private lands adjacent to the base of the Roan are being developed, and this lease sale will place these herds at serious risk,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “If Coloradans want to preserve desirable wildlife for succeeding generations, they must demand balance now before it is too late.”

“It’s remarkable how this agency, charged with managing public land for all Americans, has been co-opted by politics beneficial to only a handful of people with a political or financial stake in the Roan,” said Bill Dvorak, Colorado public lands organizer for the National Wildlife Federation. “If the Roan is drilled under this plan, sportsmen will lose resources and opportunity, outdoor enthusiasts will lose access, and we’ll see more and more of the same problems that have persisted in the region, including industrial-grade pollution of the air and water and trashed fish and game habitat.”

Dvorak noted industry in the region already is operating under a cloud of suspicion due to a number of spills and industrial accidents over the last year. Several streams, including Parachute Creek, a significant tributary to the Colorado River, have been polluted due to unreported wastewater spills and discharges. Recently, a hunting outfitter was taken to the hospital after drinking well water tainted by benzene, an ingredient in industrial drilling mud.

“We’re not talking about reducing the price at the gas pump when we talk about leasing and drilling the Roan,” said David Lien, co-chair of the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Industry is after natural gas under the Roan, not oil, so drilling the Roan will have no effect on gasoline prices and it won’t lessen our dependence on foreign oil. 

“The federal decision to lease the Roan Plateau is just what it looks like—a land bank for industry that gives natural gas companies a cushion should the November elections not go their way,” continued Lien, a lifelong sportsman. “Furthermore, the BLM brass in D.C. is doing all it can to help. Unfortunately, sportsmen and wildlife are the ones getting the short end of the stick in this top-down decision.”

The BLM’s unwillingness to heed the advice of local wildlife managers, local governments, sportsmen, elected officials and citizens from all walks of life points to a larger problem.
“The BLM is failing to meet its mandate of properly managing public lands for the public, not just with regard to the Roan Plateau but throughout the West.” said Dwayne Meadows, field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Until we have policies in place that change the way business is conducted on our public lands to ensure that fish, wildlife and sportsmen get a fair shake, battles like the Roan Plateau will never end.”  


More information about Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau is available at

Learn more about collaborative efforts to bring balance back to public lands management at Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development:

Date: 8/8/2008


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