Salazar presses Interior on Roan drilling

July 25, 2007

By Anne C. Mulkern
Denver Post Staff Writer
Washington — Sen. Ken Salazar demanded today that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne detail in writing how the federal government will address Colorado’s concerns about a plan to allow more oil and gas drilling atop the Roan Plateau.

Salazar, D-Colo., met with Kempthorne today as part of the senator’s ongoing skirmish with Interior and the Bureau of Land Management over new drilling on the plateau. Salazar has placed a hold on Senate confirmation of President Bush’s nominee to head the BLM, James Caswell.

“I said that we are essentially heading to a point of collision with the federal government” and with BLM, Salazar said. “I told him it was up to him to help avoid that train wreck.”

Kempthorne’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Salazar said he told Kempthorne he would make a decision about lifting that hold after seeing the letter requested of Kempthorne.

Salazar also conceded, however that Bush could install Caswell without Senate confirmation during the Senate’s planned recess next month.

The Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado has become a battleground for environmentalists, hunters, recreation lovers and those who argue that retrieving stores of energy in the mountain is essential to meeting the nation’s energy needs. Money from drilling leases — estimated at between $500 million and $1 billion — would partly go to the state. The revenue would be split 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

Gov. Bill Ritter wants 120 days to review the BLM’s Roan Plateau drilling plan. The agency gave him less than 30 days.

Salazar said he wants Kempthorne to give Ritter more time as well as answer questions about technology that could allow oil and gas retrieval without drilling on the top. There are technologies that allow for vertical drilling, retrieving the energy sources from lower down on the 9,000-foot mountain.

BPR Project Partners

July 18, 2007


Just received word of more support on the Buffalo Peaks Ranch project, which is great news. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte has pledged assistance with the project. Their experience with volunteer programs and stream restoration will be a big help with pulling off the Buffalo Peaks restoration. Be sure to check out their website at and let them know how much we appreciate their assistance!

On this subject, I would be remiss to express thanks to our other partners as well. Especially Park County, who has pledged a significant financial contribution – you can check them out at and the beneficiary of their county-wide stream improvement projects, which is the South Park Fly Fishers service at This is a great program – if you are itchin to fish some new private waters, be sure to check this source out and support stream restoration in Park County.

Finally, the DOW/USFS for the Fishing is Fun grant, and the City of Aurora for assisting us in this project.

We begin construction on August 27th and look forward to 6 weeks of great weather to get the project done! I hope to see you all there for the Volunteer Weekends September 22nd and 23rd and October 13th and 14th!

Is water really available for ‘Big Straw?’

July 17, 2007

Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, shares that concern. Cites such as Durango, Grand Junction and Rangely could theoretically grow now by developing unallocated water in the Colorado River system.

Allen Best
Vail, CO Colorado
July 16, 2007
How much water remains for Colorado to develop under the inter-state compacts of 1922 and 1948 is unclear. Those compacts assumed more water in the Colorado River and its tributaries than has generally been the case.

Flows could drop further. Many climatologists predict that the warming climate will make drought-like conditions persistent in coming decades, reducing river volume by at least 10 percent, possibly much more.

Should this happen, Colorado could have no additional water left to develop — and indeed, some current water diversions may be curtailed in order to meet compact obligations downstream in Arizona, Nevada and California.

While that threat “may be years or decades away,” says Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, in a memo to the agency’s directors , “my concern is that because the project is proposing to divert water to the East Slope, where the water could not be physically returned to the West Slope, the risks are almost entirely on the West Slope, primarily on West Slope agriculture.”

Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, shares that concern. Cites such as Durango, Grand Junction and Rangely could theoretically grow now by developing unallocated water in the Colorado River system.

If Colorado has no water left to develop, the towns and cities will instead look to buy farms for their water rights. Thus, Western Slope farms would y be sacrificed to save Eastern Slope farms.

Unlike the other projects, Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from Utah and Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir is moving ahead. The right-of-way application for along I-80 is now in a preliminary phase of review, says Walt George, the national project engineer for the Bureau of Land Management.

He says the others federal agencies involved —the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — are discussing which agency should have lead jurisdiction.

“More power to him if he can make it happen,” says Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Conservancy District Conservation District, which operates some Front Range water supplies. “We think he has a few more hurdles in front of him than he thinks has in front of him.”

Sign of things to come on the Roan

July 16, 2007

Two staff members with Trout Unlimited (TU) had filled an SUV with journalists to show them what’s at stake on the Roan Plateau, and the drive along its ridges had led to the opportunity to fish in the creek.

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

July 16, 2007

As the waters of the East Fork of Parachute Creek tumbled over a 200-foot falls Thursday, storm clouds hovered ominously at the far end of the broad canyon that opens up below this scenic landmark of the Roan Plateau.

The clouds’ threat was only temporary, but below them could be seen a more serious concern for advocates of keeping the plateau as it is. In the canyon bottom perhaps a mile downstream of the falls, a drilling rig plumbed for the riches of the natural gas formation thousands of feet below.

The rig is on private land, but is one of several edging ever closer to the public lands of the plateau. And now that the Bureau of Land Management has decided to allow drilling on the plateau top, those seeking to protect the plateau worry that the forested landscape of its upper slopes is about to undergo an industrial transformation.

Keith Goddard, who has a hunting outfitting business on the plateau and has fought for years to keep rigs off the top, worries that those in a position to make a difference “have written this area off.”

Goddard kicked up dust with his cowboy boots as he led the way down a stock trail to the creek above the falls Thursday. Two staff members with Trout Unlimited (TU) had filled an SUV with journalists to show them what’s at stake on the Roan Plateau, and the drive along its ridges had led to the opportunity to fish in the creek.

It’s one of a couple of creeks on the plateau known to hold populations of almost genetically pure populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout. A sizable population is on Trapper Creek, where the anglers were to visit the next day.

On this afternoon brook trout were far more in evidence, but they were skittish and required patient stalking. Before long, Corey Fisher, a Montana resident and energy field coordinator for TU, had taken off his striped shirt because it was spooking a 12-inch brookie. He slowly pursued the fish on hands and knees almost at creek level before catching and then releasing his prey.

It was a relaxing break for Fisher and Chris Hunt, an Idaho resident and TU’s communications director on public lands issues. But Thursday’s media tour was being conducted for more serious reasons, the same ones that had U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., grilling James Caswell in Washington that day over his nomination to be director of the BLM.

Like Goddard, Salazar and TU object to the BLM letting drill rigs on top of the Roan. Salazar has said he would place a Senate “hold” on Caswell’s nomination until the Department of Interior gives Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a fellow Democrat, the 120 days he has requested to review the Roan plan.

Far from a wasteland
Hunt’s hope for Thursday’s tour was to show that the Roan isn’t the “desert wasteland” that he says some energy industry representatives have described it as being.

Certainly, the view from below, down in Rifle, can be deceptive. From there, the plateau presents itself as a steep, stark cliff running to the north and west and climbing thousands of feet. And the drive on the JQS Road up those cliffs starts out in a landscape of piñon and juniper trees and sagebrush. But the vegetation begins to change after several switchbacks, until pines and aspen are encountered even before reaching the plateau top.

Beyond the Roan’s rim, the desert gives over entirely to rolling, lush country full of wildflowers and aspen trees, and valleys running with spring-fed streams. Grouse, red-tailed hawk, elk and other animals make appearances in a place where deer, bear and mountain lion also abound.

“You get up here and it’s a totally different world,” Hunt said, before admiring the size of the aspen trees. “This is signature Colorado stuff, you know?”

The question is whether gas development could make the plateau look more like the heavily drilled landscape in the Colorado River Valley below. Some of the ridge-top jeep roads would be widened to accommodate drilling traffic, and already drill rigs can be seen along ridgelines of private lands just outside the BLM part of the plateau. A puff of black smoke issued from one of them Thursday.

Although no rigs have reached BLM lands, the traffic impacts have. Williams Production was using the road following the plateau rim to reach drilling sites on private lands on the plateau – something it no longer needs to do now that it has opened a new road of its own on those lands. Goddard is glad Williams took that step. He is concerned about the impacts of future drilling traffic on big game.

Watershed worries
The drilling plan for the plateau calls for rigs to operate from ridge tops, to protect watersheds. But Goddard thinks the quarter-mile buffer zones around creeks are insufficient because many of the creeks are fed by springs that are farther away.

“All you’ve got to do is screw up one spring and you’ve lost the whole creek,” he said.

Fisher, of TU, shares such concerns. He said a drilling-related spill in Wyoming wiped out one cutthroat trout population.

“Poor land management flows downhill,” he said.

Susan Alvillar, of Williams Production, said the company already has numerous environmental protection programs in place for its drilling, including for protecting against spills.

“We’ve got a myriad of regulations that we follow every day,” she said.

She said Williams has 14 wells on top of the Roan now, and three rigs that are currently drilling.

“We’ve operated up there since the ’80s, and certainly it’s on our radar screen that everything that we do needs to be in accordance with all those regulations and make sure that we don’t impact any of our precious resources up there,” she said.

Alvillar said many who work for Williams are avid hunters and anglers who understand the importance of protecting the environment. She also noted that the Roan plan is “very prescriptive” in aiming to reduce the impacts of drilling.

But that’s not assurance enough for Goddard. He said he gets probably 50 calls a year from hunters hoping to find a place to go where they can enjoy their experience without seeing lots of people, traffic and drilling rigs. For years, he has been able to offer the Roan as one such place.

But with rigs looming on nearby horizons like storm clouds, and the BLM ready to invite them in if its plan withstands political challenges, he knows that may be about to change.

Pine River agreement sets flow

July 13, 2007

It’s too much flexibility, said Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited, a critic of the agreement.  “They have absolute, unfettered discretion to decide for themselves whether to make a donation,” Peternell said.

July 13, 2007

By Joe Hanel | Herald Denver Bureau

CRAIG – Fish in the Pine River below Vallecito Reservoir would get some extra protection under an agreement approved by a state water board Thursday.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted to accept a donation of water from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Pine River Irrigation District. The deal will put varying amounts of water into the river for a stretch ending 12 miles downstream from the reservoir, home to brown and rainbow trout.

In exchange for the donation, the water board agreed not to file for an in-stream flow right – a water right that could force water to stay in the stream.

Under the agreement approved Thursday, the tribe and the irrigation district get a lot more flexibility to decide how much water is available to preserve the river’s environment.

It’s too much flexibility, said Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited, a critic of the agreement.

“They have absolute, unfettered discretion to decide for themselves whether to make a donation,” Peternell said.

Under the agreement, the reservoir will release 136 cubic feet per second during the summer to supply a 12-mile stretch down to U.S. Highway 160. During the winter, the reservoir would release less – up to 50 cfs, but for a 19-mile stretch.

However, those rates could drop if reservoir managers decide water is not available. Managers also could provide extra water when possible.

State water board employee Linda Bassi recommended that the board approve the deal, which has been in the works for two years of detailed negotiations.

“We’re being optimistic and thinking the water will be there,” Bassi said.

Don Schwindt, a water board director from Montezuma County, disagreed with Trout Unlimited’s criticisms.

“This is a really good way to move forward and solve a problem,” Schwindt said.

The state water board has had the right to file for in-stream flow rights since 1973. These rights are different from the recreational water rights Durango wants for its kayak park at Smelter Rapid.

Only the state water board can hold an in-stream flow right, so by relinquishing those rights on the Pine River, the board has guaranteed the tribe and the irrigation district don’t have to worry about anyone claiming rights to improve the river’s environment.

The agreement will take effect once it is signed by Pine River and Southern Ute officials.

Kids clinic serves up the catch of the day

July 13, 2007

“Last Wednesday, while rousing music spilled out of the Evergreen Music Festival’s big top, restless schools of young patriots cast their eyes toward Evergreen Lake’s sparkling waters, where, thanks to Evergreen Trout Unlimited, fishing rods, wily prey and summer adventure awaited.”

Spending the better part of a glorious Fourth of July lounging around in the sun listening to music may be big fun for grown-ups, but the average kid prefers entertainments of the applied variety.

Last Wednesday, while rousing music spilled out of the Evergreen Music Festival’s big top, restless schools of young patriots cast their eyes toward Evergreen Lake’s sparkling waters, where, thanks to Evergreen Trout Unlimited, fishing rods, wily prey and summer adventure awaited.

“This is the 13th year we’ve done our Fourth of July fishing clinic,” said floppy hatted Trout Unlimited stalwart John Ellis, his multi-pocketed fishing duds heavily accoutered with tools specific to his avocation. “We won a youth education award for this program, and the kids just love it. We always tie it to the music festival because, as long as they’re here for the music, they may as well do some fishing.”

That’s pretty much the way Evergreen resident Tanya Rodgers sees it, and the fishing clinic is now a big part of her clan’s Independence Day observances.

“It’s something they really enjoy, and it’s a great activity that the whole family can do together,” explained Tanya, as her kids — Sophia, 6, Moriah, 8, Addi, 11, and 12-year-old Nick — sat patiently waiting for the 10 a.m. start. “And it’s free, which is nice, because it’s getting hard to find an outdoor family activity that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

Last Wednesday, as on most summer mornings, an unbroken fence of fishing poles surrounded the lake, most wielded by practiced anglers with well-stocked coolers and a deep understanding of the secretive ways of fish. What chance could youthful amateurs have of snaring a prize among such company? With a little rigging by Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, a pretty darned good one. Earlier in the week, DOW had netted off the small bay just south of the Lake House and decanted some 1,500 smallish rainbow trout into the biggish fishbowl thus created. The stocking operation went smoothly, which hasn’t always been the case.

“One year they stocked it before they put up the net, and all the fish swam out,” Ellis said. “Then they put up a net, but restocked it on the wrong side of the net. They wound up stocking it three times.”

At 10 o’clock sharp, the first group of 20 kids mustered for a brief tutorial on subjects like fishing pole mechanics, proper casting techniques, fish identification, fishing etiquette, and the ethics of fishing. The Trout Unlimited volunteers also recommended catch-and-release tactics, and not just because they’d rashly volunteered to clean any trophies the children opted to keep.

“It’s mostly rainbows, but I’m sure I saw a tiger muskie in there,” grinned Ellis, pointing to a dangerous-looking torpedo on a full-color fish chart. “You’ve got to be careful if you catch a tiger muskie. They’ve got really sharp teeth.”

Like her brothers, 6-year-old Isaac and 4-year-old Ian, 8-year-old Isabella Mohr listened politely, but was plainly eager to begin the hunt. Though new to the sport, her powers of exaggeration were already formidable.

“I caught a rainbow last year, about 2 feet long,” said Isabella, patriotically decked out in a glittery shirt reading “America Rocks” and a pretty red-white-and-blue hair ribbon. “We ate it. It was really good.”

“This teaches them respect for wildlife,” said the trio’s dad, Rich. “And it gets them outside, away from the TV. They have fun, but they have to use their minds.”

At 10:15, the children were marched down to the Warming Hut access road, issued fishing poles and set loose. What followed was a very entertaining 45 minutes of combat fishing that would discourage any Columbia River salmon-run veteran. About two dozen Trout Unlimited volunteers ran up and down the 150-foot line of waving fiberglass baiting hooks, unsnarling lines and trying to keep their excited charges from snaring themselves or each other.

Though technically unsophisticated, Isabella fished with zest. After each cast, she’d peer down her line into the gloomy depths with terrible concentration, almost willing the fish to bite. Isaac’s style was more energetic: cast-and-reel, shock-and-awe. For his part, young Ian took an almost Zen-like approach to the sport, seemingly content to watch his bright red float bob gently on the surface.

An enthusiastic fisherman with a reliable 10-yard cast, Nick Rodgers brought every weapon in his small arsenal to bear.

“I started with worms, but I switched to Power-Bait,” Nick explained. “It doesn’t smell very nice, but the fish like it. And you have to be patient. A lot of these kids just throw it out and pull it in. You have to give the fish a chance to smell it.”

For no obvious reason, the teeming rainbows appeared impervious to every style and subterfuge. Volley after volley of mouth-watering worms and pungent “fish eggs” sailed into the water, only to be reeled in a few minutes later, utterly unmolested.

“I think they’re all on the other side, over there,” said Isabella, waving vaguely off toward the Lake House.

“They might be scared of all the noise,” offered Nick, “or they might not be used to the bait.”

At last, after some 15 minutes of furious effort, Isaac’s vigorous approach paid off with the day’s first catch — a handsome 10-inch trout. “I threw the hook where the fish was,” explained Isaac, generously sharing the secret of his success.

A long moment later, 7-year-old Nino Delany hauled in a nicely speckled rainbow, which he gladly surrendered back to the lake. “I don’t really like fish,” Nino admitted. “I just like fishing because it’s relaxing.”

In fact, that foot-long trout must’ve looked kind of puny to Nino, considering the scaly monster he described catching last year on Upper Bear Creek. “It was a ‘river pig,’ ” he said, in dead earnest. “I think it was about 6 feet long.”

The hourglass had nearly run out on the 10 o’clock anglers when 8-year-old Jamie Schultz, dropping her line hard up against the net barrier, snared a surprisingly contentious 7-inch rainbow. The waist-length string of blue beads around her neck swinging and rattling wildly, Jamie managed to reel it in while simultaneously jumping up and down and screaming with excitement. Then she watched in complete satisfaction as a Trout Unlimited volunteer netted the annoyed creature, removed the hook and sent it back to the depths.

“I think it was my technique,” Jamie explained later, with all the animation that an 8-year-old girl can summon, which is a lot. “I picked a big worm, (I let my mom put it on the hook) because I thought, ‘Something will bite on that, for sure.’ Then I saw the fish sitting there and I thought, ‘Why is it just sitting there?’ Then I thought, ‘Oh, it’s on my line!’ ”

And then it was 11 o’clock and time for the next round of hopefuls. If only a handful of the 10 o’clock kids caught fish, there was nothing to prevent them from signing on for another session. By day’s end, maybe 200 kids had checked into Evergreen Trout Unlimited’s Fourth of July fishing clinic, dozens had landed rainbows, and all went home feeling much better for the experience. Ellis’s threatened tiger muskie must have been attending a holiday barbecue in another lake, somewhere.

To be a good fisherman — or at least a happy one — requires a certain philosophical turn of mind. Although Nick’s best efforts and subtlest stratagems failed to net a trout, he took it on the chin and remained unbowed.

“I didn’t get so much as a mosquito bite today,” said Nick, bravely. “Some days you catch ’em; some days you don’t. But I’ll be back. They’ve gotta eat sometime.”

Roosevelt’s Words

July 5, 2007

By Chris Hunt, Guest Writer, 7-03-07

Visiting the nation’s capital is an exercise in contrarianism. All around the city are reminders of the righteousness of the Republic in the form of monuments and memorials to those who have shaped our country’s history, but in word and deed, the not-so-subtle stone and steel lessons these structures are meant to convey are deftly, almost skillfully, ignored.

I’ve been to Washington, D.C. a few times now, and each time I try to take in something new—a monument, a museum, a neighborhood. I’ve found the monuments to be the stuff of inspiration and national pride, but I’ve also discovered their sage advice is readily overlooked.

My last trip to D.C. further cemented that belief–I was given perhaps the most strident reminder that, no matter how many monuments we erect or memorials we construct, these edifices do not translate from ideal to action. It would seem to me that the many who choose civil service for a career are those who ought to spend a little time revisiting the messages we’ve laid out in the shrines we build to honor the great men and women from our nation’s past.

There’s a monument to one of those great men that virtually gushes with good advice, and it was there, on Theodore Roosevelt Island, that I recently gained a new appreciation for irony.

I walked a trail along the Potomac River, across a footbridge over the water and onto an island that is today managed by the National Park Service as a nature preserve (as urban wildernesses go, the island is really quite beautiful). I was with a friend of mine, and we’d spent an afternoon in nearby Georgetown unwinding after a long week of lobby visits with members of Congress and working to drum up media interest in a sportsmen-driven effort to improve energy development practices on public land in the West. My friend, a lifelong hunter and angler, once explained to me that one of his first visits to the island a couple years back resulted in an epiphany that moved him to double his efforts in his work as a conservationist.

I poked fun at him when he described his experience, jogging along the trails of the island in a D.C. in a downpour, only to emerge from a tunnel of overhanging trees right at the foot of the Theodore Roosevelt Monument, and the inscribed slabs of granite that speak largely to the importance of conserving our natural resources for the benefit of our descendants.

I didn’t take my friend too seriously–I’d been to too many monuments to do much more than simply appreciate the sentiment. The intent of a monument is wonderful. The message, though, too often gets lost in the haze.

But this one was different.

Until I, myself, stood before the bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt, complete with the steadfast countenance and the commanding posture, one arm extended and his eyes glaring intently toward the suburb of Arlington, Va., I never really quite understood what my friend meant by the term “epiphany.”

Inspired? Sure. But mostly, I was angry. Angry that, for decades, this shrine to one of most forward-thinking leaders in world history has been literally under the noses of the politicos in Washington, and the ideals it puts forth have been summarily dismissed.

On one of the stone tablets, for the world to read, is inscribed this quote from our former president and one of the greatest conservationists the world has known: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

We have failed mightily.

Roosevelt, in his time, also talked about the sanctity of wild places and need to keep them intact so future generations of Americans can know their country was built atop an untamed land that, to this day, continues to provide for the everyday needs of the average citizen. He talked about the importance of experiencing the wilderness, of understanding its value left just as it is, so that one day, our children’s children might wander a lonely trail into the woods and gain an understanding of wild things and wild places.

It translates well to me. It speaks of a healthy respect for the open country we have here in the West. It speaks of mountains, rock, ice, dust. It speaks of stalking wild animals and casting dry flies to trout finning in clear, cold water. It speaks of shoe leather, sweaty ballcaps, threadbare fishing vests, the smell of pine mixed with a whiff of gun oil, and lungfulls of thin air laced with damp sage.

Sadly, the things of which Teddy speaks don’t contribute much to election campaigns. They don’t lobby Congress. They don’t attend fundraising dinners and pay hundreds of dollars for a plate of lukewarm chicken Parmesan. Roosevelt’s voice, one of the first to speak on behalf of the wild and untamed heart of America, is but today an echo–a forgotten reminder etched in stone on a tiny island in the middle of a polluted river in our nation’s capital city.

Yeah, I’m angry.

I’m angry when someone tries to tell me the price of gasoline depends on our ability to drill for natural gas atop Colorado’s Roan Plateau or in the Wyoming Range, or that a new road into the backcountry is absolutely necessary for the enjoyment of the wilderness, even though the mere existence of a new road would ruin anything wild about its destination. I’m angry that oil companies, ATV manufacturers, timber companies and mining interests have been able to use our system of government to exploit the last, best places we have left. And I’m angry that many we’ve elected have chosen to mute the prophetic messages of a great man enough to make those who should be heeding his words seemingly forget he ever existed. (You can read the Roosevelt’s Words here.)

As I stood at the feet of Roosevelt with my friend, the noise of the city was far away, and I was emotionally overcome with the remorse of missed opportunity, of wonderful, unheeded advice that some even today can’t recognize in hindsight.

An epiphany? I’ll leave that to my friend–he earned it in blinding thunderstorm. Me? I’ve been blessed with some 100-year-old advice. I intend to follow it.

Editor’s note: Chris Hunt is a former newspaper editor in Idaho, and now works for Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands Initiative.