Public has a second chance 
to preserve the Roan Plateau

The Roan Plateau is back.

Not that it ever went anywhere. It just wasn’t ours anymore. The BLM decided to lease it for oil and gas drilling.

Refusing even to consider an option not to lease the top of the Roan at all, or the overwhelming choice of the people to preserve the top of the plateau by drilling directionally from the surrounding cliffs, the BLM arbitrarily decided in 2006 to lease the top despite widespread opposition.

So, it has been up there right along, looming 3,500 feet above Rifle and the Colorado River Valley like a protective eminence, It still strikes awe in the hearts of first-time Interstate-70 travelers who cast up their eyes to the soaring Anvil Points and murmur, “What’s that?”

What they are seeing is the ragged shore of an island in the sky so isolated no rainbow trout has ever migrated upward to contaminate the genetically pure strain of native Colorado cut-throat trout that swim its streams.

Beyond the Anvil Points lie about 34,758 acres of BLM wild lands. Of these, the BLM acknowledges that 19,000 acres have wilderness characteristics. It is all critical habitat for elk, deer, cutthroat trout and other species, including rare plants.

The top of the Roan is treasured by sportsmen. Anglers come to cast for the elusive cutthroat in its clear streams. Hunters find ample herds of mule deer and elk, as well as other game.

In summer, the Roan offers opportunities for high country camping, mountain biking, hiking and unparalleled views of the Colorado River Valley. On a hot summer day, hikers can scramble up the rocks below East Parachute Creek Falls to bask in the icy spray of its 200-foot plunge over the cliff.

Environmentalists praise its wilderness and wild lands as critical habitat for rare plants and diverse wildlife. A group of environmental organizations brought the lawsuit against the BLM that stopped the leasing.

As supporters of the Roan point out, the local economy depends on these wild areas for a steady source of income not subject to the uncertainty of energy production. Guiding hunters and anglers is an important source of income, as are the hunters themselves when they spend money locally. So are tourists attracted to nearby natural areas, including the Roan Plateau.

As former Northwest Resource Advisory Committee member Charles Kerr wrote in comments to the BLM, “The recreation industry and the non-labor sources of income need the Roan Plateau to be fully protected from oil and gas drilling on the top. It is the crown jewel of the I-70 corridor. This mountaintop plateau is a unique, isolated, geological feature with natural and wildlife values so special that its greatest economic value lies in the preservation of its natural qualities.”

The lower slopes and cliffs of the Roan Plateau have already been leased and heavily drilled. On top, a large private parcel is being drilled now.

The BLM attempted to lease the top for drilling in 2006. Fortunately for the Roan, the agency failed to do required studies of air quality impact from drilling on the surrounding area.

That omission, as well as a failure to include a “no action” option or the citizen-supported plan to drill horizontally into the surrounding cliffs to access the resource while preserving the top among their considered plans, landed the BLM in court 2008.

Now, thanks to a recent favorable court decision, the Roan is back in the public domain — ours again if we can hold it.

The BLM should recognize that, in view of the impact drilling in the lower areas of the Roan Plateau has had on diminishing mule deer and elk herds, the need for preserving habitat on the top of the Roan is even more compelling now than it was in 2006.

Once again it is time to raise our voices in defense of the top of the Roan.

Colorado State BLM Director Helen Hankins assures citizens, “Public involvement will be critical to BLM developing a full range of alternatives to consider in the supplemental (environmental impact statement).”

The public comment period continues until March 30. To offer an opinion, identify issues and review the planning criteria, visit http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/land_use_planning/rmp/roan_plateau.html.

This time the BLM promises to listen.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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