Western Water Project Staff Notes, August 2007

August 28, 2007

Attended more IBCC meetings, including one to consider whether Colorado has adequately assessed its upcoming consumptive water needs and another where we discussed non-decisional items, giving feedback on a report from a group of business leaders and the possibility of state redoing a proposed scope of work for determining how much water Colorado is entitled to use that it isn’t actually using. We also had a good internal TU conversation about the energy-water nexus.

Spoke to Regional Forest Service hydros and biologists about Western Water Project and TU’s approach to stream protection-reconnection-restoration in the region.

Colorado Water Project

Clean Water Restoration Act: Worked to gain support of Congressman John Salazar and Governor Ritter. Activities include communications with the Congressman as a member of his Water Advisory Committee, development of talking points for a letter-writing campaign by Colorado conservation groups, and co-writing a letter to Governor Ritter with Colorado Council’s executive director. TU also participated in a Clean Water Restoration Act conference in Albuquerque, co-sponsored by TU, DU and NWF.

Regulation of CBM Wells: In a recent decision, a Colorado water court ruled that coalbed methane wells may no longer operate without obtaining water pumping permits from the State Engineer and going to water court for approval of measures to prevent injury to surrounding water wells or surface streams. The decision is expected to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court and will likely be the target of legislative efforts by both the State and industry in the upcoming session. TU is also working to gain support from local and regional governments on both the judicial and legislative fronts.

Colorado River Headwaters: As part of the CWP’s effort to get the State’s instream flow leasing program off the ground, TU continued a series of meetings with key irrigators and other key entities in the area, to promote the program, explore future specific transactions, and seek support for CWP’s legislative efforts to improve the program in the upcoming session.

Met with Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the east slope beneficiary of the C-BT project, to discuss cooperative solutions to the chronic low flows of the Colorado River headwaters below Granby Reservoir. TU discussed our efforts to increase flows through leasing. Northern said it is exploring possible operational scenarios that may assist the river.

Colorado River Basin: TU focused on temperature monitoring in the Colorado River Basin. In cooperation with the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Eagle River Watershed Council, we deployed loggers These loggers will contribute to the wealth of temperature data being collected in the Colorado River Basin in anticipation of the basin-wide standards hearing this winter.

Gunnison River Basin: Worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to collect discharge data on a couple of streams in the Gunnison River Basin. These data will serve as the basis for recommendations to the CWCB for instream flow appropriations on these streams. TU plans to collect additional data on these and other streams so that we can continue to recommend trout streams for instream flow rights.

Shoshone Call: As the most senior Colorado River water right within Colorado, the Shoshone hydropower plant diversions control the administration of the river. In late June, an upset shut down the plant for the immediately foreseeable future, threatening the delicate administrative balance achieved over decades of operations. From an environmental standpoint, the absence of the call has a potential to impact ESA listed fish a few miles above the state line as well as cold water fisheries at its headwaters. From a recreational standpoint, the shut down could threaten a $20 million industry. TU has been participating in a series of conference calls among affected entities to discuss a cooperative administration agreement in lieu of the Shoshone call. TU has been working to assess what the impact of the Shoshone shut down will be on flows in the Colorado River and how various efforts to keep water in the river might impact fish, especially if winter flows are severely curtailed.


Shoshone Generating Station to be back online by next spring

August 17, 2007

“The group Trout Unlimited has expressed concern over what will happen to water levels after Oct. 31.”

http://www.postindependent.com/article/20070817/VALLEYNEWS/108170053

Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
August 17, 2007

Xcel Energy announced Thursday the Shoshone Hydroelectric plant won’t be back online until the beginning of spring.

The Shoshone station, located in Glenwood Canyon, produces 14 megawatts of power.

The 98-year old plant was shut down on June 20 after one of the large pipes that delivers water to the plant ruptured and caused water and debris to flood the plant area. Approximately eight feet of water and several tons of rock and soil rushed into the station.

The rupture didn’t result in a loss of service for residential customers. Xcel Energy has determined the rupture was caused by corrosion on the exterior of the section of pipe that was buried underground.

Repairs are estimated to cost about $12 million, and will include repairing and upgrading both large penstocks. Crews will begin construction in September.

“The Shoshone station is a key part of our fleet, providing 14 megawatts of economical, clean, renewable power for our Colorado customers,” said Lou Matis, vice president of operations. “We appreciate the patience of other Colorado River water users, and the cooperation of the Colorado Department of Transportation and emergency responders during the event.”

The Colorado River District announced a plan to keep enough water in the Colorado River to benefit rafting companies and endangered fish this summer.

Water flows of 1,200 cubic feet per second in Glenwood Canyon will be kept through Labor Day and 810 cfs for endangered fish in the Grand Junction area through October.

The group Trout Unlimited has expressed concern over what will happen to water levels after Oct. 31.

Once the plant resumes operations, an important balance will also be restored among Colorado River water users. The generating station does not consume water, but commands important flows in the Colorado River, which benefit fish, rafters and a multitude of other Western Slope water users.

The plant is one of seven hydroelectric power plants owned and operated by Xcel Energy in Colorado.


DENTRY: Antero fish kill leads to tougher limits, halving catch

August 15, 2007

Regardless of the cause, all those dead trout floating belly up at Antero Reservoir lately should be called what they were: a fish kill.In the four weeks since it opened, the crowds have loved – and some have cheated – Antero to death, or at least to the point where wildlife commissioners felt obliged to pass emergency regulations Monday, halving legal limits.

A gasoline tanker didn’t roll over in the popular South Park reservoir, but it might as well have.

Thousands of trout died, not counting those that went home in coolers. The decomposing floaters, most of them former rainbow trout 18 to 22 inches long, drifted ashore abundantly.

The culprit was hooking mortality exacerbated by too many people fishing, sloppy fish-release techniques and water temperatures too high for trout to play the angling game.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Eddie Kochman, retired fisheries chief for the Division of Wildlife. He described dead fish with “gills torn apart, torn mandibles and bleeding gill filaments. Two had monofilament sticking out of their mouths where it had been cut.”

Culling trout, the practice of swapping out smaller kept trout for bigger ones, is part of the problem.

“Culling is illegal,” South Park district wildlife manager Mark Lamb said.

“A lot of people put fish in live wells, which I’ve renamed death wells because trout don’t do well in them. Some of them catch a 22-inch fish and think they can let the 19-incher go.

“Mostly, what it comes down to is people are not releasing fish properly,” he said.

“That life or death struggle trying to keep from being pulled out of the water takes so much of their energy and reserve that the extra stress of being out of the water puts the nail in the coffin.

“No matter how much time you spend trying to revive them, they might swim away, but five minutes later you’ve got a fish belly up. It’s ugly.”

Nature has intervened in the past few days with water so warm and poor in oxygen that Antero’s fish appetites have waned.

Neil Sperandeo, recreation manager for Denver Water, Antero’s owner, said bank fishing has turned sour. Wildlife division biologist Jeff Spohn said there are fewer floaters now that fishing success has sagged.

Sperandeo said overwhelming attendance created most of the problems when Antero opened July 17 after being closed for five years.

“We’re getting pounded,” he said. “We expected it to subside after the opening weekend, but it hasn’t.”

He laments that Antero has been overrun with trucks, trailers and RVs, is overflowing with trash despite Denver Water’s best efforts and smells of dead fish.

But he hesitates to shut the reservoir down, which Denver Water could do.

Meanwhile, concerned anglers and fish managers met with wildlife commissioners Monday and hashed out the emergency regulations.

For 90 days, bag and possession limits at Antero are reduced from four fish to two. Length restrictions formerly allowing only one fish over 16 inches are dropped.

“Doing away with the tape measure saves time and saves stress on the fish,” said Commissioner Brad Coors, who led the charge to bring some relief to Antero’s prize trout.


Commission votes to cut trout limit at Antero

August 14, 2007

By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Staff Writer

Meeting in emergency session, the Colorado Wildlife Commission on Monday cut the trout limit at Antero Reservoir to two fish, any size.The emergency rule, for 90 days, came in response to what was perceived as excessive fish mortality in the wake of the celebrated July 17 reopening of an impoundment drained since 2002 after the Hayman fire.

The previous regulation – four fish, only one more than 16 inches in length – was viewed as a major factor in the inadvertent loss of many large trout, many seen floating dead in the reservoir. Denver Water, which owns the impoundment, had expressed particular concern about additional abuses that included overcrowding, trespassing, parking and trash.

Colorado Division of Wildlife staff Monday proposed an alternative regulation of four fish, two more than 16 inches, but a half-dozen citizens delivered opposing testimony supporting the eventual commission ruling.

The unanimous 5-0 commission vote means the regulation becomes effective immediately. The DOW also will take action to post signs to assist anglers on the proper handling and release of trout.

Dark goose limit raised

Responding to more liberal guidelines released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the commission also approved a boost in the dark goose daily bag limit for eastern Colorado to four – one more than a year ago.

The commission also added eight days to the length of the season, adding the dates Oct. 8 and Nov. 17-23.

In a separate move, the commission allowed western Colorado to have two canvasback ducks in the daily bag of seven.


Comments on Proposed Roan Plateau Areas of Critical Environmental Concern Designations

August 14, 2007

Dear Ms. Connell,

Please accept the following comments on the Roan Plateau’s Areas of Critical Environmental Concern designations on behalf of the national Public Lands Program of Trout Unlimited. Trout Unlimited is especially interested in the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed actions on this unique treasure.

Trout Unlimited (TU) is a non-profit conservation organization that has more than 150,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Since 1959, TU has dedicated staff and volunteers working toward the protection of sensitive ecological systems necessary to support robust native and wild trout and salmon populations in their respective ranges. Trout Unlimited, recognizes that the value of public lands is unparalleled in providing critical habitat to coldwater fisheries, wildlife habitat, the public’s drinking water, and public recreation businesses and opportunities. Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands program works specifically on public land management issues affecting the health of fish, wildlife, and their habitat as well as the quality of experience hunters and anglers expect when pursuing their passions on our public lands. In Colorado, TU has 10,000 members volunteering their time and energy to further the overall mission.

Though conservation is at the forefront of TU’s mission, we are not against oil and gas leasing and/or energy development as a use of our public lands. We support prescribed responsible development that does not recommend or impose oil and gas as the dominant land use. This prescription includes setting aside special areas, proper stipulations, effective mitigations, and enforcement of environmental safeguards so as to ensure the protection of fish, wildlife, and their habitats. We do have a significant concern that oil and gas leasing, and the exploration and development that naturally follows leasing, creates an irretrievable commitment of public resources that can have deleterious impacts on coldwater fisheries and wildlife habitat found on the Roan Plateau. We are specifically concerned about potential impacts from energy development that could harm coldwater aquatic habitats and watershed conditions necessary to support the long-term sustainability of native Colorado River cutthroat trout. In addition, as sportsmen and conservationists, we are concerned about the short-term and long-term impacts of oil and gas activities to fish and wildlife and the unique habitats found within the Roan Plateau Planning Area.

Finally, our overall fear is that the expansive and accelerated rate of development for oil and gas in Colorado and within this BLM Planning Area will ignore the devastating landscape scale consequences to fragile environments, to the cultural, the economic and the health of outdoor recreation for citizens of this state.

General ACEC Discussion.

1. Recognition of Roan’s Uniqueness.

The four proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) have been extensively described in both the Roan Plateau Plan Amendment (Management Considerations for Proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, BLM, December 2002) and in the Roan Plateau RMP Amendment (Evaluation of Proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, BLM, August 2002). Throughout both of these documents are phrases that describe the character of these ACEC’s as “rare”, “extremely vulnerable”, “high visual sensitivity”, “extremely fragile”, “unique niches”, “globally rare”, “only known populations to occur in the world”, “exceptional scenic qualities”, “irreplaceable significant viewshed”, “highly significant for biological diversity”, “providing critical and seclusion/security components…for many species”, “vulnerable to adverse change”, “biologically significant”, “national park quality scenic attraction”, “loss or impairment of this…would be irreplaceable”, “unusually rare”, “a rare community”, “found only in a handful of riparian areas…”, “rare community type”, “vulnerable to adverse change”, “unique and irreplaceable”, and “considered rare on a global and statewide scale”.

Based on the above samples of the many descriptions of the incredible attributes that occur within the Roan Plateau ACEC’s, TU would like to see that drilling be kept off the public lands atop the Roan Plateau. With the BLM’s assurances in the first Record of Decision for the Roan that authorize for an innovative and highly restrictive approach to oil and gas development, exploration and drilling can occur at the base of the Plateau and still contribute significantly to the revenue of Colorado and the nation’s energy supply. As a multiple use and natural resource management agency, there should be no reason why the BLM would allow the ultimate demise of such characteristics as those that occur on the Roan Plateau. That demise would most certainly occur, based on all the scientific and economic data thus far exhibited in countless testimonies and papers from citizens, communities, businesses, municipalities, organizations, and state and federal representatives.

2. Watershed and Fisheries Issues.

Trout Unlimited has strong concerns that development will affect the immediate and future watershed, the relationship of groundwater and surface waters, the fisheries component, and the overall health of an ecosystem currently untouched by the many insults that energy development will have in this area. More than 50 percent of our nation’s healthiest and most prized trout streams originate on public lands. And more dramatically, as of 2003, more than 15 percent of all trout habitat in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico falls within areas containing gas and oil reserves where could or is occurring (Gas and Oil Development on Western Public Lands, Trout Unlimited publication, Spring 2004).

In Colorado, more than 18 million acres (or 28 percent) could potentially be developed for gas and oil. The Roan Plateau is included in this figure. More than 90 percent of public comments received by the BLM and the leadership of six towns say they oppose large-scale drilling on the top of the Roan Plateau.

If the overall goal of the BLM’s management prescriptions for each potential ACEC is to “protect or enhance” the values for which the ACEC was defined, then it becomes apparent that the BLM will be challenged in meeting the criteria of Section 1613.22 if drilling is allowed on the top of the Plateau. BLM can still meet its mission by deferring leasing on top and allowing leasing at the base.

In its own document (RMP Amendment, August 2002) the BLM considers the entire Parachute Creek Watershed to be important to the long-term functionality of vital ecosystem processes which maintain upland and stream habitats important to the Colorado River Cutthroat trout (CRCT). Protecting the entire watershed and not just stream segments will be the only way to protect the populations of the sensitive CRCT. As has been described and recognized in many documents, including the BLM’s Planning document, the top of the Roan contains genetically pure populations of native, wild and naturally reproducing CRCT. These trout have been identified as core conservation populations and contain spawning areas that are extremely vulnerable to any sedimentation, water temperature fluctuations, and contamination.

This subspecies of cutthroat trout (Onchorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) is the only native trout found in the upper portion of the Colorado River Basin and ranged at one time throughout the Colorado River Basin in coldwater streams and their reaches in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and possibly Arizona (R. Behnke, 2002. Trout and Salmon of North America). The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) includes the Parachute Creek Watershed in a Potential Conservation Area as well as ranking these streams/creeks within the watershed as “Very High Significance”. Headwater streams located in the Roan Plateau area are able to sustain these populations of cutthroat trout because the streams are very clear with low sediment loads and low turbidity. CRCT are highly sensitive to sedimentation and turbidity. Lack of or little data exists on impacts to coldwater fisheries from oil and gas productions. Further studies on wastewater discharges and sediment overloads associated with oil and gas activities are needed.(Confluence Consulting, Inc. “Annotated Bibliography of the Potential Impacts of Gas and Oil Exploration and Development on Coldwater Fisheries”, June 17, 2004. Prepared for Trout Unlimited.).

Development will cause increased turbidity, erosion deposition, and potential contamination from accidental spills. This would most likely eliminate the trout population, as witnessed by similar impacts on a pure CRCT stream in a tributary to LaBarge Creek, Wyoming in the 1970’s (Binns, Wyoming Game and Fish Department). An oil spill into the creek permanently removed the CRCT population and it has yet to recover. Spills are a common occurrence during energy production and reports to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission reflect that. From 2005-2007 there were eight spill incidents in the Parachute Creek Basin that impacted surface waters. Multiply this amount with the increased planned drilling scenario and it becomes clear that even with current regulatory measures, there is the inevitable contamination factor that would lead to a decrease in CRCT survival and thus, eventual listing potential on the endangered species list.

Energy development means an intricate system of roads, pipelines, vehicle movement, dust pollution, noise pollution, storage facilities, loss of habitat, and water quality impacts. All of these factors impact the entire watershed planning area. Even with the proposed plan for tightly controlled energy development on top of the Plateau, the general topography and soil components of the Plateau will not be able to adapt to the impacts from energy development. Erosion from all of the above activity descriptions will occur and will deleteriously affect the quality of habitat and stream ecology of the area Energy development also means stream dewatering during the exploration and production process. The Roan contains many small perennial streams and in late summer and early fall, these stream flows are often less than 2 cfs. Removal of water for gas activities (either through wells or stream dewatering) would result in devastating effects to the populations of these sensitive trout species. Avoiding drilling on the top of the Plateau is the best choice for maintaining these critical fisheries and wildlife habitats.

The BLM also admits that the hydrology of the Roan Plateau is not well understood (BLM’s Evaluation of Proposed Areas of Environmental Concern, August 2002). This could easily spell catastrophe for an already defined Sensitive Species such as the CRCT, as well as for the entire watershed if drilling were to be allowed in an area that has such an unknown hydrologic background. Lack of knowledge on the impacts that drilling will have on the watershed’s hydrology will also impact the numerous sensitive plant species identified on the Roan Plateau. Many of these species (considered rare and unique) and their communities depend on the intricate hydrology that occurs on the Plateau. As stated in a recent TU publication (Gone to the Well Once Too Often, February 2007) it is a common misconception that ground water has no relation to surface water. It is extremely crucial to the survival of the entire Roan Plateau watershed system that the relationship of ground water and surface water be understood. Ground water provides much of the water that flows in streams and this is particularly true in semi-arid and low precipitation areas, such as those that exist on the Plateau.

The U.S. Geological Survey has noted that with the increase in the amount of ground water development for industrial purposes, impacts to ground water levels will result in significant declines. In fact, it was noted that in many areas of the West, ground water levels have declined 300 feet or more in the past 10 years (TU, February 2007; USGS). The over-pumping of ground water negatively affects fisheries and wildlife habitat by diminishing the surface water flows. Surface flows in the forms of rivers, streams, playas, and wetlands, provide important wildlife and fisheries habitat. This is especially true about the surface flow relationship on the Roan Plateau. Associated oil and gas (including proposed coal bed methane wells in the management area) development use vast quantities of water to assist in the extraction of the oil or gas product. Currently in Wyoming, coalbed methane (CBM) development is having a profound effect on water extraction. One well can produce 17,280 gallons per day and 6,307,200 gallons per year. This staggering amount of water extraction can be applied to proposed developments in CBM and oil shale development proposed in and near the Roan Plateau planning area.

3. Wildlife Impacts

Impacts from traditional oil and gas development to the ecology of an area are extensive. While the actual “footprint” of a well pad may be somewhat small, as mentioned earlier, the production of oil and gas involves by necessity, a wide-ranging and often massive infrastructure that includes roads, pipelines, transmission lines, heavy truck traffic, increased human population (including the most likely potential for man camps due to the area’s isolated nature), holding facilities and more. All this means wildlife will be impacted by the presence of this intrusion. Wildlife corridors and migration routes will be fragmented, ground and surface water supplies will be impacted, crucial riparian and meadow areas will feel the affects of this development. Important big game fawning and calving areas will be impacted and nesting raptors will not be able to avoid experiencing the impacts of such intrusion. All of these wildlife attributes are recognized and discussed as important elements within the proposed ACEC’s. The landscape scale interactions among wildlife, fisheries and habitat within the top of the Roan Plateau cannot be ignored.

Approximately 29 percent of Colorado’s mule deer habitat (14.5 million acres) falls within areas of potential gas and oil development (Colorado Division of Wildlife; TU Spring, 2003). Pronghorn habitat within Colorado is also impacted. More than 30 percent (or 9.6 million acres) of pronghorn habitat falls within areas of potential gas and oil development. Known for its largest population of elk in the Rocky Mountain West, more than 29 percent (or 15 million acres) of elk habitat falls within areas of potential gas and oil development. For the imperiled sage grouse, more than 28.1 percent (or 9 million acres) of sage grouse habitat falls within areas of potential gas and oil development.

The top of the Roan Plateau contains all of the above species as well as much of their transition routes, migration routes, nesting and brooding areas, cover and security areas. Placing the top of the Roan Plateau off limits to drilling makes environmental sense.

4. Economic Impacts

Healthy wildlife environments, including fisheries, are important parts of a healthy economy. Tourism, hunting, fishing, outfitting, and local businesses that benefit from those activities, all depend on healthy wildlife habitats. Without healthy habitats, wildlife would not exist, consequently affecting the economics of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

Healthy fisheries, for instance, improves water quality, it mitigates droughts and floods, it increases ground water replenishment, improves wildlife habitat, maintains biodiversity and increases economic value through hunting, fishing, real estate and water availability. According to TU’s report The Economic Value of Healthy Fisheries in Wyoming (January 2005), healthy fisheries consist of the upstream and downstream waters of a flowing river; lands adjacent to the river, which include floodplains, riparian and upland areas; and ground water. These qualities can be applied to Colorado as well as quality fishing experiences are important to Colorado residents.

In 2002, hunting and fishing generated an estimated $1.5 billion for Colorado’s economy including $800 million in direct and $700 million in indirect revenues. According to the report Economic Impacts of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Watching in Colorado, the state fishing industry generated $460 million and hunting generated $340 million in direct revenues. Together, the industries supported some 20,200 jobs around the state. Wildlife watching, an activity often linked to other outdoor recreation, generated an estimated $560 million in revenues and an estimated $940 million in total economic impacts in 2002. Hunting on the Roan Plateau is an important activity for residents of Colorado. According to documents supplied by Garfield County, hunting is worth $3.8 million annually to the County.

In 2006, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, Preliminary Findings (May 2007), more than 87 million Americans or 38 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed some form of recreational activity relating to fish and wildlife. Expenditures for wildlife-related recreation by this group topped $120.1 billion. Close to 34 million people fished and hunted in 2006, spending $75.5 million on these activities. Nearly 30 million anglers spent $40.6 billion in 2006, with each angler spending an average of $1,357.

While the individual state data is not currently available, one can extrapolate based on Colorado’s hunting and fishing datasets. This is a significant economic contribution. And in many ways, the culture of hunting and fishing is more than about money and expenditures. It is about protecting and maintaining a culture and heritage associated with the past and the future of wildlife in our country.

Individual ACEC Discussion

1. Anvil Points

Anvil Points is comprised of 4,955 acres proposed as an ACEC for visual, wildlife, botanical and ecological values. Known for its “exceptional scenic quality”, the BLM recognized the public’s high sensitivity to landscape modifications to areas with high scenic values. Anvil Points is one of these places and the landscape alone is considered “extremely vulnerable to modifications”, according to BLM’s own documentation.

Anvil Points has wildlife values that are more than locally significant. The BLM considers this an important area due to the core of the area being identified as a Wildlife Seclusion Area in the 1999 Oil & Gas Forest Service FEIS. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program also identified this area as a Conservation Area due to its plant and raptor habitat values. The proximity to a variety of habitats found in the area, including the open, southern slopes which provides critical winter habitat for mule deer, make this area worthy of ACEC designation.
Rare plants occur within this proposed ACEC and two of the five known (in the world) populations of Parachute penstemon occur in the Anvil Points area. Anvil Points’ grassland ecosystem is an important source for seed generation throughout northwestern Colorado. This economic contribution has impacts for the agricultural and reclamation field. Two stands of the aspen/Rocky Mountain maple community exist in this area and are considered rare due to the formation of a community between the two plant species.

The BLM described this area’s values in more detail, noting that, “most importantly, the unroaded nature of the area provides security among various habitat types that is important to many wildlife species. This area provides transitional and winter range for big game and is one of the few areas where migration routes exist from the top of the Roan cliffs to the lower slopes.”

“The entire area faces south, which is critical to mule deer during severe winters, as these areas are free from snow. The proximity of these open, southern slopes to higher density pinyon/juniper woodland habitats is also critical as a cover component. This mosaic of habitat types and their proximity to each other also provides important nesting areas for a variety of bird species and critical birthing habitats for many other wildlife species.” (Roan Plateau Planning Area Proposed Plan/Final EIS, pp. 3-112)

Anvil Points contains mesic aspen forests that are considered “globally rare” and provide good diversity and a productive understory crucial for wildlife survival, underscoring another reason why this is an incredibly important area for the big game populations that live atop and below the Roan Plateau. Providing winter, transitional and birthing habitat, along with one of the few migration routes between the high and lowlands, Anvil Points is an area that warrants full protection. Allowing development to occur in this area would be devastating to these populations. This area must be preserved and granted exclusion from leasing and development activities. Anvil Points should be off-limits for oil and gas leasing through a “no lease” decision.

2. East Fork Parachute Creek

The East Fork Parachute Creek area is comprised of 6,571 acres proposed as an ACEC for visual, wildlife, fisheries, botanical and ecological values.

The East Fork Parachute Creek is a small but biologically significant tributary to the Colorado River drainage. The creek flows westward across the plateau, and provides year-round habitat for Colorado River Cutthroat trout. The Colorado River cutthroat trout is the only native trout in the Colorado River basin, and has been designated a Special Status species by the BLM and is classified as a Sensitive species by Regions 2 and 4 of the US Forest Service, and the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. This ACEC area is also identified as one of the five areas containing conservation populations identified in the Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout in the States of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. This means these streams are given the highest priority for management and protection. Oil and gas development in this area will impact this Conservation Agreement.

The East Fork Parachute Creek ACEC contains two of the five conservation populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout found atop the plateau. These populations area at least 90% genetically pure, meeting the criteria for a conservation population, which is defined as follows.

A reproducing and recruiting population of native cutthroat trout that is managed to preserve the historical genome and/or unique genetic, ecological, and/or behavioral characteristics within a specific population and within geographic units.” (Roan Plateau Planning Area Proposed Plan/Final EIS, pp. 3-114)

The BLM considers the entire watershed to be important to the long-term functionality of vital ecosystem processes which maintain upland and stream habitats important to these fishes (Roan Plateau RMP Amendment Evaluation of Proposed ACEC, pp. 16). Also, the BLM declared, “these streams are regionally and nationally important producers of native, genetically pure and naturally reproducing Colorado River cutthroat trout,” going on to proclaim that these streams should be given the “highest priority for management and protection.” (Roan Plateau RMP Amendment Evaluation of Proposed ACEC, pp. 16.)

Also within the East Fork Parachute Creek ACEC is First Anvil Creek. This tributary to East Fork Parachute Creek may have additional conservation populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout. (Roan Plateau Eligibility Report for National Wild and Scenic River System, pp.8)

The importance of these trout populations is clear, and in order to ensure that the subspecies continues to reproduce, recruit and ultimately exist, depends on the protection of this area. Moreover it is important to note that merely maintaining the status quo of these populations is not enough. Bolstering these populations of native trout by protecting habitat, improving water quality, and removing limiting factors on the rare and irreplaceable populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout is crucial to ensure the long term persistence of native trout on the Roan Plateau and throughout their historic range. Adding addition stresses from oil and gas drilling to this population of native trout, such as increased sedimentation, reductions in water quantity and quality, ground water flow alteration, and the increased likelihood of a spill, should not be authorized through leasing.

Other attributes contributing to this unique area include high scenic values that include a 200-foot canyon waterfall. The BLM has recognized the diversity of this area and described it on the level of a “national park quality scenic attraction”. Impacts from ground water extraction in this area have the potential to negatively affect this area and loss or impairment of this feature would be “irreplaceable”. A rare community of Mancos columbine and a BLM Sensitive plant (Eastwood’s monkeyflower) also are present in the unique hanging gardens that exist in this ACEC. Also rare are several plant communities such as the Colorado blue spruce/red osier dogwood and the boxelder, narrowleaf cottonwood, red osier dogwood community. These communities are considered rare on a global and statewide scale.

Restrictions, such as the NGD/NSO restrictions, especially with the two-year surface disturbing window allowed under the Final Non-ACEC RMP, are simply not adequate for the rare and irreplaceable fisheries, wildlife and plant resources present in this area. The only way to ensure that these Colorado River cutthroat trout populations are protected is to make the entire watershed off limits to oil and gas leasing through a “no lease” decision. This also means expanding the size of the ACEC to include the entire watershed, as sections of several tributaries and upland areas were left out of the proposed ACEC.

3. Magpie Gulch

Magpie Gulch is comprised of 4,698 acres of land proposed as ACEC for visual, wildlife, botanical and ecological values.

Exceptional scenic qualities contribute to this ACEC’s uniqueness. Again, Colorado’s public has indicated that full support is warranted for protection of this “irreplaceable significant viewshed” (BLM, August 2002). Old growth Douglas-fir, aspen, oakbrush, mixed mountain shrub, pinyon/juniper and sagebrush benches provide various habitat types which provide essential food, cover, water and security for wildlife. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program has ranked this ACEC area as a highly significant area for its biological diversity. High biological richness and diversity make these habitats important in providing summer, transitional, migratory, and winter range for Colorado’s big game species. The southern aspect of the area, along with pinyon/juniper and shrubs, provide critical habitats for mule deer during the winter months. Excellent raptor and cavity nesting bird habitat exists within this area. The area also provides habitat for nesting blue grouse populations.

The BLM has declared that, “Its unroaded nature provides seclusion among an array of habitat types important to a diverse grouping of species and is irreplaceable and exemplary in nature.” The BLM went on to conclude that, “This area is vulnerable to adverse changes, including habitat fragmentation and a resultant loss of species diversity.” (Roan Plateau Planning Area Proposed Plan/Final EIS, pp. 3-113)

The critical habitat that this area provides for mule deer and blue grouse, as well as a route from below the cliffs to atop the plateau, makes this area a top priority for conservation and preservation. The BLM has even stated that it is vulnerable to adverse changes and allowing any level of oil and gas leasing or development would compound the threat of these impacts. NGD/NSO restrictions and timing limitations are not adequate for protection of this area. This ACEC must be off-limits from oil and gas leasing.

4. Trapper/Northwater Creek

Trapper/Northwater Creek is comprised of 4,810 acres of land proposed as an ACEC for wildlife, fisheries, botanical and ecological values.

Trapper and Northwater Creeks are tributaries to the Colorado River drainage. The creeks flows westward across the plateau, and provide year-round habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout. With the headwaters at the eastern edge of this ACEC, it becomes an important conservation area for the survival of the CRCT. Three of the five conservation populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout that exist atop the plateau are found within this ACEC. Included in these are Core Conservation Populations, identified by a genetic purity of 99% or higher.

The BLM considers the entire watershed to be important to the long-term functionality of vital ecosystem processes which maintain upland and stream habitats important to these fishes. (Roan Plateau RMP Amendment Evaluation of Proposed ACEC, pp. 19.) Also, the BLM declared, “these streams are regionally and nationally important producers of native, genetically pure and naturally reproducing Colorado River cutthroat trout,” going on to proclaim that these streams should be given the “highest priority for management and protection.” (Roan Plateau RMP Amendment Evaluation of Proposed ACEC, pp. 19.)

In 2002, the BLM declared that, “In addition to meeting the genetic purity criteria, fish located in Trapper and Northwater Creeks are thought to have significant biological adaptations unique to the habitat in which these fish reside. These populations of cutthroat are known to persist in the summer when water temperature in portions of the stream approach and exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.” (Roan Plateau Eligibility Report for National Wild and Scenic River System, pp.8.)

The nearly pure genetic populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout that exist in this area are irreplaceable, and cannot be dependent on NGD/NSO restrictions that are subject to exceptions allowing surface disturbances and waivers. Oil and gas leasing must be off-limits in this area.

It is important to note that while the Trapper/Northwater Creek ACEC has been proposed to help protect the rare and irreplaceable Colorado River cutthroat trout, for which this system is a stronghold, a vital element of protection has been left off of the proposed ACEC. Upstream from the parcel of private land located in the upper Northwater Creek drainage, the watershed is not included in the ACEC. This glaring omission threatens nearly all of the Northwater Creek and a significant portion of the Trapper Creek populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout. Aquatic insect and trout egg choking sediment caused by surface disturbing activities associated with oil and gas development, and toxic effluent in the event of spill, all flow downstream. For this drainage, downstream means the best Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat in the Trapper/Northwater Creeks drainage. It is here, after the confluence of Trapper and Northwater Creek, that Trapper Creek attains its greatest volume and provides necessary flows and depth to maintain suitable Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat in the face of higher water temperatures and low flows brought on by drought. Leaving the upstream portion of the Northwater drainage open to development without the protection of an ACEC would be irresponsible, and compromise the integrity of Colorado River cutthroat trout populations in the entire system. In order to protect this sensitive resource, TU recommends that a “no lease” decision be made for the entire Trapper Creek watershed, including the entire Northwater Creek watershed.

Furthermore, within the Northwater Creek watershed the parcel of private land is split estate with Federal minerals. The land management decisions applied to this area will directly affect most of Northwater Creek downstream and some of the best habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout downstream in the Trapper Creek system. This parcel of private surface/Federal minerals is located near the headwaters of Northwater Creek, thus subjecting the watershed health of the Trapper and Northwater Creeks downstream to surface disturbances, including erosion, on these lands. Poor land management quite literally flows downhill and this area must be under the same consideration as the ACEC adjacent to it. While the BLM cannot manage the surface of this private land, BLM has the discretion not to lease the federal minerals under this split estate. Because of the downstream effects and harm posed to watershed health that drilling on this parcel of private land would have on Colorado River cutthroat trout, Trout Unlimited recommends that for this split estate, a “no lease” decision apply.

Conclusion

Trout Unlimited recognizes the vital role oil and gas activities have both to Colorado and the nation. However, citizens of the West are losing more and more valuable public recreation and wildlife habitat to oil and gas development with little emphasis on protection of these irreplaceable lands for the future.

It is important to TU and to its membership that the BLM seriously consider landscape scale protections that do not include patches of oil and gas development. Studies across the West are showing that oil and gas development negatively and often permanently impact wildlife habitats, wildlife populations, and eventual community and state economies. Permanent protection measures for the top of the Roan Plateau should be applied. There are some places that should be off limits to energy development.

Thank you for the consideration of these comments.

Corey Fisher

Cathy Purves


Roan Plateau ACEC’s

August 14, 2007

Dear Ms. Connell:

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposed Areas of Environmental Concern (ACECs) in the BLM’s Roan Plateau Planning Area. I am submitting these comments on behalf of Colorado Trout Unlimited.  With approximatly 10,000 members, Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) has been active for more than 35 years participating with federal and state agencies in the on-the-ground efforts to protect, restore and enhance coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.  Our volunteer members have worked especially hard in the Roan Plateau, establishing grazing exclosures, and in-stream structures on upper Trapper Creek to expand Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat and provide healthier downstream water quality.

While Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) applauds the protective measures proposed by the BLM for what in your own words are the “unique and irreplaceable” populations of Colorado Cutthroat Trout and other wildlife habitat on the Roan, we still do not believe that these measures will prove sufficient. 

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern should include the entire watershed.

Two of the proposed ACECs, East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek contain both Conservation and Core (99% genetically pure) populations of Colorado River Cutthroat Trout.  These are streams and populations which the BLM has identified as being of high regional and national importance.  While no longer considered endangered, the CRCT is identified as a Sensitive Species in Colorado. In the BLM’s original Evaluation of Proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (August 2002) you stated that  “The BLM considers the entire watershed in which these fish reside to be important to the long term functionality of vital ecosystem processes which maintain upland and stream habitats important to these fish.”  The report concludes that “Conservation populations are important in the overall conservation of the species and are given the highest priority for management and protection.  These populations are unique and irreplaceable.”  CTU couldn’t agree more.  If these populations are to be provided the fullest possible protection, and if these species and their habitat are to be given “the highest priority for management and protection,” we would encourage the BLM to make the entire watersheds Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.  That indeed is what these watersheds are, all the way to the top of the ridgelines.

Placing a boundary for ACECs on East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek based on slope angle, and promoting full development of the ridgelines for energy exploration and production, does not recognize the reality of how watersheds function.  Any significant storm event – such as the many we have had in this region over the past month – could and would cause catastrophic failure of protections placed at a well or construction site.  Gravity would carry the resulting discharges directly into the ACECs below, and the “unique and irreplaceable” populations of Colorado River Cutthroat trout could be severely impacted.  Given that these populations are most prevalent lower in the drainage where the water supply and cooler temperatures are most consistent, the risks are magnified with every up-basin disturbance.    That is why the BLM’s own report stated that the entire watershed needed protection.  For the ACECs to be truly protected, the entire watershed, including the ridgetops, must be included.

Furthermore, the ACEC along Northwater Creek ends at the western boundary of a block of private land (owned by W.F. Clough of Rifle, according to Garfield County records).  The ACEC does not continue past these lands into the headwaters of Northwater Creek on BLM land.  This is absurd.  The fact that the intervening land is private is irrelevant.  BLM owns the subsurface mineral rights and has sole jurisdiction and control over the development of these rights.  Any development on Northwater Creek in the headwaters or on Mr. Clough’s property will have impacts downstream, in the proposed ACEC.  The headwaters of Northwater Creek – on Mr Clough’s property and especially the BLM land above it – must be included in the ACEC if the BLM expects to manage the watershed to protect the native trout population for which the ACEC is being recommended. 

The East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek ACECs should be subject to strict NSO/NGD requirements, and to range management strategies that protect fish habitat.

The BLM has stated that the ACECs will be off limits to any development with stipulations of No Ground Disturbance (NGD) and No Surface Occupancy (NSO).  At a meeting with you in June we were assured that all construction activity would be limited to the ridgelines.  Pipelines would be required to follow the roads and ridgelines.  This does not inspire confidence that the native cutthroat trout will be preserved; as described above, impacts on the ridgelines can and will effect the ACECs below.  Moreover, we were told that no solid and absolute NSO or NGD stipulation would be mandated, as that might interfere with the cattle operations and make it impossible to construct fencing or a simple water line to a stock tank.  Without a clear prohibition of surface occupancy or ground disturbance being placed on energy development and production, through lease and permitting conditions, we remain concerned that the shortest, least costly route for a pipeline will be taken, even if that route cuts right through the heart of any of the proposed ACECs. 

The BLM can provide for reasonable flexibility for other land uses while still establishing solid NSO requirements for oil and gas development.  We recommend that NSO/NGD requirements be placed on oil and gas development – without exemption – upon the East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek ACECs.  The BLM could include language allowing ground disturbance for other land uses, provided that those disturbances were designed to enhance or restore habitat for the cutthroat trout populations which motivate the ACEC designations (e.g., establishing an off-channel watering location to help keep cattle out of the stream).

Along these same lines we would request that cattle be excluded by fencing from the riparian areas along all of the streams in the East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek ACECs, with the exception of spaced access to the streams for crossing and drinking.  There is no need for cattle to continue the damage they cause to the “long term functionality of vital ecosystem processes” in these riparian areas.  Such continued practice would be counter to the ACEC designation and contrary to good range management.  To assist BLM in this regard, CTU would be happy to help recruit volunteers to assist with fence construction.

Strong stewardship of ACECs is necessary to advance the purposes of the Colorado River cutthroat trout Conservation Agreement and Strategy.

Many ranchers have fenced out riparian areas as a part of the “Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, in the States of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming”, an agreement to which the BLM is signatory and a partner.  CTU has supported this agreement and recovery process as a more viable option for conservation than listing the Colorado River cutthroat trout through the Endangered Species Act.  We trust that the BLM will continue to uphold its part in this agreement. If imperiled and sensitive populations of Colorado River Cutthroat trout that are under BLM care, such as those found in East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek, become more threatened, then the viability of the Conservation Agreement as an alternative to ESA listing will be weakened, increasing the likelihood of agency review or legal challenge on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “not warranted” determination for the Colorado River cutthroat trout.  Achieving the purposes of the Conservation Agreement will require that BLM provide the East Fork Parachute Creek and Trapper/Northwater Creek ACECs with sound range management and effective protection from adverse impacts associated with construction and operation associated with oil and gas development,

Again, CTU applauds the efforts and all the proposed ACEC designations on the Roan Plateau planning area.  However, we are concerned that the proposed designations and protections are inadequate for the task at hand.  Only full protection of the watersheds will work.  This means extending the ACECs to cover the full watersheds involved; establishing real NSO/NGD restrictions to ensure protection of cutthroat trout habitat; and incorporating greater riparian protection into grazing management along these streams.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Ken Neubecker, Vice-President


Roan drilling-ban plan advances

August 7, 2007

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5661786,00.html

By Todd Hartman, Rocky Mountain News
August 7, 2007

A move to ban drilling atop the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado marked the latest turn in what has become a bruising battle involving Congress, environmental groups and industry.

The U.S. House this weekend approved a provision banning oil and gas extraction on federal lands atop the plateau as part of the 2007 energy bill.

Democrats John Salazar and Mark Udall, both representatives from Colorado, pushed the provision.

The amendment now moves to a conference committee to hash out differences with a Senate version of the energy bill, an event that won’t likely occur until Congress returns from its August recess.

If it survives, it would override a Bureau of Land Management plan issued in June that called for drilling on parts of public land atop the Roan.

Instead, industry would have to access natural gas by drilling from the side of the plateau, or on private lands on the top.

The move in the House came a day after U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, also a Democrat, persuaded the federal government to give the state of Colorado 120 days to analyze the BLM’s decision before it leases any land for drilling – time sought by Gov. Bill Ritter who has argued that his new administration needs a chance to analyze and comment on the agency’s plan.

The Roan has become a flash point between environmentalists – who want its rugged backcountry and wildlife spared the impacts of drilling rigs – and industry officials who want access to its large stores of natural gas.

Salazar said he’s acting on behalf of thousands of constituents who oppose drilling on the Roan, including local elected officials, residents and sportsmen.

“The Roan is so important for its above-ground hunting and angling resources,” said Brian O’Donnell of the conservation group Trout Unlimited. “Keeping it intact is the best option for sportsmen who appreciate the unique fishing and the trophy-hunting opportunities available atop the Roan.”

But state Sen. Josh Penry, a Republican from Fruita who supports the BLM plan, said many others, including county commissioners and state lawmakers in the region, support the BLM plan. Shutting off exploration in an area with 4 percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves is shortsighted, he said.

The BLM plan for the Roan “is the most restrictive management plan in the history of the American West, and it has a lot to give the economy in terms of royalty payments back to Colorado,” Penry said.

Greg Schnacke, of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said the BLM’s restrictions for the Roan are “apparently not enough for those who want to stop the drilling.”