OUT: Parachute-area DOW official moves up in ranks
When JT Romatzke took over as the Division of Wildlife’s district wildlife manager for the Parachute area, the wave of energy development was about to become a tsunami inundating western Colorado.
Now, nearly five years later, Romatzke is moving down the road, to Grand Junction and a promotion to Area 7 Wildlife Manager, which includes overseeing nine district officers, three wildlife technicians and the same energy companies he dealt with in Parachute.
“It’s going to be a lot of the same challenges,” said Romatzke during a lunchtime conversation Thursday.
“It was pretty overwhelming when I first arrived in Parachute.”
At the time, as energy companies from around the country focused squarely on the natural gas riches underlying the area, the relationship between development and wildlife was at best one of benign neglect.
This was well prior to House Bill 1298, which directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to consult with the wildlife agency on ongoing energy development.
Sportsmen and wildlife managers were wondering how to meet the growing threats to habitat and recreational opportunities on public lands.
To his credit, and the immense relief of the DOW and sportsmen everywhere, Romatzke tackled the job of making sure the DOW had a presence when matters of wildlife came around.
“One of the big challenges was to step up and be the point person for the DOW to meet with the energy companies and try to develop some working relationships with them,” Romatzke said.
Because the DOW is a non-regulatory agency, Romatzke had to forge ties with those agencies that had some regulatory control over the energy companies.
“It was kind of like taking baby steps,” Romatzke said. “In order to do anything on the ground that really benefits wildlife, you first have to have some relationship with regulatory agencies and the companies.”
One memorable result of his efforts is the phased development plan being used by Williams Energy in the Parachute area. While development on private land can take place helter-skelter, this phased plan for public land has development focusing on one area at time.
Instead of returning repeatedly to the same area and continually disturbing the land, the plan Romatzke and Williams devised has the company concentrating its drilling and exiting, leaving behind the required revegetation and other environmental reclamation work.
Wildlife benefit because they have escape avenues and refuge areas where they largely can escape the commotion accompanying development.
Although the plan won’t work everywhere, due to timing and other restrictions applied by the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, a drill-and-get-out plan similar to the Williams plan is being used in the Hightower Mountain area.
“The benefits can be pretty tremendous,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hamilton. “We can’t use (the Williams plan) in every case but we’re looking at development on a case-by-case basis.”
Romatzke also says energy companies are more supportive of division programs, sponsoring special private-land hunts for women and youths and donating to such causes as Operation Game Thief.
While the DOW’s role in development has been strengthened by HB 1298, the challenges aren’t over for Romatzke or the DOW.
The Roan Plateau, one of the premier wildlife habitats in western Colorado, has been leased for development.
“We’ve made our recommendations and now have to wait,” said Romatzke. “But we’ll continue to do what’s best for wildlife.”