Drilling in NW Colorado could degrade elk and deer herds, native trout habitat

RBC — As sportsmen flock to western Colorado to hunt elk and mule deer, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership recently announced its protest of federal leases that would permit oil and gas drilling in crucial big-game winter range and migration corridors and Colorado cutthroat trout habitat. The sportsmen’s protest of the Bureau of Land Management’s Nov. 13 lease sale comprises more than 16,000 acres where energy development could have dramatic and long-term effects on game populations and the public’s outdoor traditions.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has identified winter range and migration routes as “vital” to the survival and sustainability of big game, and the Western Governors Association recently released a report specifying the importance of wildlife corridors in maintaining “significant, reliable wildlife populations.” Scientific studies have concluded that energy projects established near big-game migration corridors can result in population declines in species such as mule deer.
“Just last winter, the Colorado BLM was forced to enact emergency closures of public lands to protect animals on winter ranges,” said TRCP Field Representative Dwayne Meadows. “If these leases are sold, the BLM will lack discretion to responsibly manage development and, therefore, have little ability to close the areas to human traffic, if conditions should require it.”
The TRCP protest encompasses parts of the Navajo River drainage that provide important habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout, which both the BLM and CDOW agree is a “species of concern” or “sensitive species.” Leasing the areas in question would violate a conservation agreement between the two agencies and rely on management plans that in some cases are more than 20 years old. Since the plans originally were written, significant new information about the effects of energy development on game has been published and must be considered by the BLM.
“We’re not demanding that energy development cease,” continued Meadows. “We are asking that, if this important habitat is leased, stipulations be in place to protect wildlife. Development should proceed only in consideration of the best-available science, in accordance with current land-use plans and in compliance with federal law.”
The sportsmen’s group asks that the leases address President Bush’s 2007 executive order on hunting, which heretofore has been ignored. With its purpose to “facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat,” the order is directed at entities such as the Interior Department that administer public lands, recreation and wildlife management. Hunting and angling activities contribute substantially to Colorado’s economy, annually generating more than $1 billion to the state.
“The BLM is legally bound to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of public lands,” said TRCP Senior Vice President Tom Franklin. “Furthermore, the agency is obligated to show that leasing in or near important fish and wildlife habitat will not lead to development that irreparably damages the land and the wild, living resources it supports.
“During this time of economic upheaval and apprehension,” Franklin concluded, “citizens should be able to rely on the federal government to manage our resources appropriately – and to uphold traditional opportunities for outdoor recreation that form the core of our American identity.”