Second chances don't come around that often. You have to make the most of a do-over, especially when the stakes are high.
The reopening of the management plan for the Roan Plateau is one of those rare opportunities for a fresh start.
The second chance for the area that features important habitat for some of the country's largest elk and mule deer herds and genetically pure cutthroat trout is due to U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger. She ruled last year that the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider more protective alternatives when it approved a plan for drilling up to approximately 1,500 natural gas wells over 20 years without adequately analyzing the cumulative impacts on air quality in the region.
The BLM can make the most of this second chance by making the Roan a showcase for thoughtful, balanced management. To do that, it must direct development by considering the potential effects on fish, wildlife, air, water, unspoiled backcountry and rare plants. It needs to consider input from all stakeholders and adopt a truly balanced plan.
In 2008, when the BLM announced the final plan for the Roan, they called it "one of the most environmentally sensitive plans'' the agency had ever produced for oil and gas development. But provisions to protect the surface in environmentally sensitive areas had holes big enough for 18-wheelers to drive through.
The BLM's analysis was based on 210 wells on the top of the Roan Plateau, while industry projected as many as 3,000 wells. The reality of drilling 15 times as many wells as that was analyzed makes any protections that might have looked good on paper meaningless.
Defining "balance" isn't easy, but allowing development to spread across all of the Roan isn't it. More than 85 percent of federally managed natural gas in the Uinta-Piceance Basin is already open for leasing. Half the Roan Plateau planning area is already leased or owned by industry. Development has been occurring and will continue on the Roan for a long time. The question is whether any trout and wildlife habitat will remain once the gas is gone.
If the next generation of hunters and anglers is going to be able to experience the Roan Plateau's above-ground riches, undisturbed big game habitat on top and at the base shouldn't be developed; migration corridors must remain intact and undisturbed; no new roads, well pads or pipelines should be located in cutthroat trout drainages; state-of-the-art drilling operations must be required and the BLM should retain the right to cancel any or all leases.
The Roan Plateau and surrounding lands provide some of the region's best fish and wildlife habitat. Surely we can conserve this important cornerstone of our western Colorado economy built on hunting, fishing and recreation.
We have a second chance. It might just be our last. This time, let's make sure the BLM gets it right.
Bob Meulengracht works for Trout Unlimited as the Colorado coordinator for Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development.