Keep rules on energy, say wildlife professionals

Experts write to legislators, urge support for gas regs

A veritable honor roll of career wildlife professionals has asked the state’s legislators to support rules protecting fish and wildlife habitat affected by energy development.

The letter, sent to each of the state’s legislators and signed by 61 retired wildlife managers with resumes from the Division of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey, asks the state legislators to stand behind 18 months of hearings and the compromises reached between proponents of wildlife and those for development.

“What we have asked for is a common-sense approach to balance the needs of wildlife and our natural resources with the responsible development of energy,” the letter reads.

At stake are proposed regulations that would require the energy industry to adopt wildlife- and habitat-friendly development procedures.

A group of legislators is pushing to delay or overturn those rules, saying that in the current economic climate, further restrictions on development don’t make sense.

The rules are part of House Bill 1298, also known as the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Act. The law directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to consult with the Division of Wildlife to assure development occurs in such as way that wildlife and habitat are “protected, preserved (and) enhanced.” 

The wildlife regulations were adopted Dec. 11 with input from a broad range of constituencies, including the energy industry, sportsmen, conservation groups and private landowners.

The rules are set to take effect April 1 on state and private land, and May 1 on federal land.

“We have to put ourselves in the position to balance both energy development and wildlife resources,” said Dave Neslin, acting director for the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“We think in most cases we can accomplish both.”

When the bill was passed in 2007, it was adopted unanimously by the Legislature, including many of those now seeking to modify the law.

After 18 months of hearings, “no section probably changed more than the wildlife rules,” Neslin said.

Among the cuts were timing restrictions and requirements for wildlife surveys prior to development. Also, the number of protected species was cut by 40 percent.

But with some Republican legislators seeking even more cuts in the regulations, the former wildlife managers are publicly asking the Legislature not to back down from a resource-protective stand.

“As wildlife managers and conservationists, we were disappointed to see some of the compromises that state officials made, particularly the weakening of rules designed to protect water quality and fisheries habitat in lakes and streams, wetlands that are important for many wildlife species and crucial habitats for big game wildlife,” the letter states.

“We understand there has to be drilling for natural gas,” said John Ellenberger, former state big-game manager for the Division of Wildlife. “All we’re saying is we want wildlife issues to be considered in the planning process up front, not as an afterthought.

“It’s not an unreasonable request because wildlife resources are an important resource for the entire state,” he said.

Even the energy industry has doubts about the impacts on future development.

A recent story by Daily Sentinel reporter Dennis Webb about cutbacks by Occidental
Petroleum quoted company spokesperson Stacey Crews as saying the national economy and a “seasonal slowdown” were to blame.

“We have an excellent inventory of assets in the area and plan to expand our production when costs are in line,” Crews said.

Earlier, Chevron spokesperson Kristi Pollard told The Daily Sentinel, “It would be false” to pin Chevron’s decision to cut back production on the new regulations being considered.


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