Future of the Roan Plateau remains in court’s hands

Conservation groups looking to protect the heart of the Roan Plateau from possibly adverse impacts from energy development will have to wait for another day and another judge.

As reported in Friday’s Daily Sentinel by colleague Dennis Webb, 10 conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, Colorado Environmental Coalition, National Wildlife Federation and others, challenged the legality of the Bureau of Land Management’s leasing of some 55,000 acres on the plateau for oil and gas development.

The conservationists are particularly eyeing the leases held by Bill Barrett Corp., which include the top of the wildlife- and habitat-rich plateau.

According to earlier comments from its directors, Trout Unlimited has long argued that by using the latest drilling and development technologies, it’s possible to develop the Roan Plateau without jeopardizing the most-sensitive habitat.

The Bureau of Land Management once claimed that more than 80 percent of the Roan’s energy resources could be developed without impacting the top.

The hope was a settlement with Barrett and other companies could be reached and the suit wouldn’t go before a judge.

But after the talks stalled, federal Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix last week ruled the impasse will have to be settled in federal district court.

According to Trout Unlimited, the BLM was derelict in considering what the potential impact from development might be and hold long those impacts might be felt.

TU’s concern focuses primarily on the few meager populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout inhabiting North Water and Trappers creek and the East fork of Parachute Creek, all of which may be affected by energy development.

These fish, said Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s energy coordinator, are distinctive in that they have adapted to the low-water, high-temperature creeks flowing off the plateau.

“These trout are truly unique and irreplaceable,” Fisher said.

Local Trout Unlimited members and other volunteers have spent 20 years or so trying to assure these trout have a future but it hasn’t been easy because so much is out of the hands of those who care most.

No matter how many cattle-excluding fences are built or hours spent constructing in-stream improvements or planting hundreds of shade-providing willows and shrubs, every bit of sweat equity could be nullified by a long drought or a quick spill from a well site.

In a statement released Friday after Mix’s decision, Colorado Trout Unlimited Executive Director David Nickum noted the Roan Plateau is “a Colorado treasure for fish and wildlife and for our hunting and fishing heritage.”

But as the conservationists look to the Obama administration to support their concerns, Barrett spokesman Jim Felton quite rightly said his company and others have a “compelling case to make, legally, technically, operationally (and) economically” for their leases to upheld in court.

Barrett, et al, have no compelling reasons to stop doing what they do, which is develop the nation’s energy resources, occasionally at a dire cost to the environment (insert BP oil spill here).

Meanwhile, conservationists will continue to do what they do best, which is fight to conserve the remainders of this nation’s rich wildlife heritage, including, as Nickum said, to “remain committed to protecting trout and wildlife values on the Roan Plateau.”

Sportsmen familiar with the treasures of the Roan Plateau can only wait to see what impact development will have on this ecologically fragile island in the sky.

And as Nickum emphasized, “we are going to continue being stewards of this unique landscape long after this lawsuit and the issue of drilling here is behind us.”

Climbing group hosts fundraiser to save Unaweep cliffs — With an eye on preserving access to some of western Colorado’s premier rock-climbing areas, the Western Colorado Climbers Association will host a fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Mesa State College Maverick Center.

Well-known Colorado climber Steve Bartlett will present his slide show “Desert Towers” as well as his new book on the history and development of rock climbing on the Colorado Plateau.

In addition, Grand Junction climber Rob Pizem will discuss some new free climbs on Fisher Towers near Moab.

The WCC recently purchased the 13-acre Mother’s Buttress parcel in Unaweep Canyon, guaranteeing climbing access to an area threatened by private property.

Wednesday’s event is free although donations are requested to support the non-profit climbers’ coalition.


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