BLM won’t appeal ruling on South Shale Ridge near DeBeque | PostIndependent.com
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BLM won’t appeal ruling on South Shale Ridge near DeBeque

Dennis WebbPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

DEBEQUE – The federal government has decided not to appeal a ruling this summer that halted gas development in the South Shale Ridge area near DeBeque.The decision apparently means the Bureau of Land Management will have to conduct more environmental review if it hopes to allow drilling in the area, which is home to a rare cactus and also has been studied for possible protection as wilderness.Glenwood Springs resident Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, said he hopes the BLM ultimately will find that the area has values that are too important to let it be damaged by gas drilling.The Wilderness Society and other environmental groups had sued the government over its gas development plans. In August, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to fully confer on the effects of drilling in the area. South Shale Ridge is home to the Uinta Basin hookless cactus, which is listed under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species.Krieger also found that the BLM made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision not to evaluate a no-surface-occupancy alternative as a possible compromise under which drilling could occur beneath some of the 32,000-acre ridge, but only directionally from outside its boundaries.The federal government initially filed an appeal of Krieger’s ruling, as did Williams Production RMT, which had leased nine parcels in the area from the BLM. However, the government and Williams later moved for dismissal of the appeal, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals complied in an order filed Nov. 5.Williams spokesperson Susan Alvillar said the company first filed an appeal in order to meet a deadline for being able to do so, while it decided whether it would pursue that appeal. She said the company was following the government’s lead in the case.”If the BLM is not going to appeal that decision and is choosing to go forward with those additional studies, then we wouldn’t have any objection to that,” Alvillar said.”… I believe what will happen at the end of the day is we’ll be looking at what restrictions will be imposed in the long run” on gas development at South Shale Ridge, she said.Mel Lloyd, a BLM spokesperson in Grand Junction, said she couldn’t confirm that the BLM had dropped its appeal. She said the agency still is analyzing Krieger’s decision and deciding on its next step. She said she couldn’t comment further on the case.Keith Bauerle, an attorney for Earthjustice who worked on the case, confirmed that the appeal has been dropped.”We won pretty much all around in terms of trying to get them to look at ways that they’re going to protect both the wilderness character and the rare plants, the rare wildflowers that live on South Shale Ridge,” he said.He said Fish and Wildlife recently found the hookless cactus in Colorado to be a unique subspecies of the Uinta Basin cactus found in Utah, meaning it’s even rarer than had been previously thought.Other plants of concern mentioned in the case were the DeBeque phacelia and DeBeque milkvetch.Smith said South Shale Ridge also has scenic values, including unique geology and multi-hued soils. The BLM found in the early 1980s that it lacked wilderness characteristics, but then changed its mind following a later inventory, he said.The area is included in wilderness legislation that has been proposed by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver.Smith noted that widespread gas development is occurring in other areas in the vicinity.”Surely we can afford to take extra precautions and put in place extra protections for the more unique, scenic places like South Shale Ridge,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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