Sportsmen join forces to protect Garfield County’s Roan Plateau

By Phillip Yates
December 12, 2007

RIFLE – Anglers, hunters and recreational enthusiasts have formed a new coalition fighting to protect the Roan Plateau from increased gas development atop its rim and in crucial, lower deer and elk winter range.In its announcement Tuesday, Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau – an organization made up of more than 20 groups that include the National Wildlife Federation, state chapters of Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Mule Deer Association – proposed a “two-pronged solution” it hopes would be a fair compromise for sportsmen and energy developers regarding the Roan’s future.The proposal calls for no new oil and gas leases on public lands in the Roan Plateau Planning Area until a plan is developed “that allows continued, responsible drilling on existing leases and private industry lands, including directional drilling underneath underdeveloped lands while protecting those underdeveloped public lands in the Roan Plateau Planning area from development-related surface disturbances.”

Bill Dvorak, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, said the proposal is not a new strategy to try to restrict gas drilling further afield in the Bureau of Land Management’s Roan Plateau Planning Area.

“It has always been our philosophy that you can’t have wildlife if you don’t have a winter refuge,” Dvorak said. “We have always advocated protecting the prime winter range at the base of the Roan.”

Dvorak said while many environmental groups have concentrated on protecting the top of the Roan, most people concerned about wildlife consistently have advocated protecting the base as well as the top, because there will not “be any critters to occupy the top if they don’t have a place to winter.”

The gas-rich Piceance Basin, of which the Roan Plateau is a small part, is about 7,100 square miles in size, but the public lands on the Roan Plateau are less than 67,000 acres or about 1.5 percent of the Piceance Basin, according to the Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau. The group cited a 2006 government study saying 90 percent of the public, BLM-managed natural gas in the Uinta/Piceance basins is already available for leasing.

“Clearly there is room for balance, including protecting what remains of the Roan Plateau,” the group said in its statement.

The same day Sportsmen for the Roan released its statement announcing its formation, a pro-industry group called Americans for American Energy criticized U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., for reportedly leading a “back door” attack in Congress against the U.S. Naval Oil Shale Reserve – the old name for the Roan Plateau. The group said Salazar’s actions would deprive Colorado of more than $1 billion in new revenues that could possibly “fund improvements to schools, local governments and water projects.”

The group accused Salazar of wanting to stick an amendment deep in a spending package being considered “behind closed doors” that would stop a current compromise Roan Plateau management plan from going forward. That plan would allow drilling on the plateau top.

The group praised Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., for his support of the plan. It said Allard is doing the “heavy lifting for Colorado and America on this, and Colorado consumers will owe him a huge debt of gratitude if he succeeds.”

Salazar contends the plateau top should be protected from drilling. He said last week he may push to include a one-year moratorium on leasing on the Roan in an Interior Department appropriations bill, to provide time to come up with a more protective management plan.

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