Latest version of wildlife protection rules diluted, some officials complain
State oil and gas regulators on Monday approved wildlife protections drawn up in lieu of a controversial proposal to allow seasonal restrictions on drilling.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s actions followed expressions of consternation by some commissioners over what they said was a significant diluting of certain other wildlife protections originally proposed by the staff.
“Protecting a few charismatic wildlife species is not equivalent to protecting wildlife resources as defined in the statute,” said Richard Alward, a commissioner from Grand Junction.
The commission has been rewriting many of its regulations in response to bills passed in 2007 that require oil and gas development to be balanced against protection of health, the environment and wildlife.
The energy industry had strongly objected to a proposal that would have allowed the panel in some cases to ban drilling in sensitive wildlife habitat for up to 90 days a year.
The agency’s staff recently withdrew that, instead proposing a process of consultation with the Colorado Division of Wildlife when drilling in sensitive areas, such as certain deer and elk winter range.
Oil and gas commissioners unanimously gave preliminary approval to that process Monday.
Commissioner Michael Dowling lamented how some of those rules have been watered down.
For example, he noted that lynx, Mexican spotted owls, boreal toads and some bats are no longer included among animals that would be protected by restrictions.
In addition, he said, 100 percent of the state’s waters would have been protected under the earlier rules, compared to 2 percent under the latest proposal, which allows restrictions to protect cutthroat trout habitat and designated Gold Medal fisheries.
Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington told commissioners Monday that the agency thinks it would be adequate to have timing limitations as one practice to be considered during consultations, in lieu of the original proposal.