Conservation ranks as high priority for lofty plateau |

Conservation ranks as high priority for lofty plateau

County and federal officials agree with the general public’s consensus: The cliffs of the Roan Plateau near Rifle need to be preserved.

“(Everyone) wants the cliffs protected,” said Greg Goodenow, the planning and environmental coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Springs-based field office. “That’s unanimous all the way across the board.”

At Monday’s Garfield County Board of Commissioners meeting, Goodenow and BLM acting field officer Steve Bennett gave a presentation on the Roan Plateau’s resource management plan.

The Roan Plateau overlooks Rifle to the northwest and is considered by many to be the town’s backdrop. Its craggy cliffs, abundant wildlife and impressive vistas are favorites with hikers, mountain bikers, off-road enthusiasts and hunters.

Commissioner John Martin commented that he is a frequent and avid visitor to the plateau.

“I would encourage anyone here who hasn’t been up there to do so,” he said. He described several of the area’s attributes, including a number of “key fishing spots and a good population of wild turkeys.”

The area is also used for cattle and sheep grazing. In addition, oil and gas industry developers hold several leases at the base of the plateau.

The BLM took over administration of the 73,602-acre Naval Oil Shale Reserve on the plateau from the Department of Energy in 1997. In 2000, the BLM amended its land use policy to allow oil and gas leasing on some portions of the plateau. Goodenow outlined six different land use alternatives. The BLM has received comment regarding the area’s future uses from the public through a series of open meetings.

“Through those meetings, we were able to determine what people want to see on Roan,” said Goodenow.

Each alternative has a common thread.

“What we keep hearing, more or less, is to keep the plateau as it is,” Goodenow said.

The BLM’s report contains numerous factors, including each alternative’s emphasis, ecological values, oil and gas leasing opportunities and recreation potentials.

The alternatives include:

Alt. A – No action, with a continuation and extension of existing management constraints.

Alt. B – Emphasis on the naturalness of the area, using passive management techniques.

Alt. C – Traditional and alternative uses, which would allow some opportunities for new oil and gas leasing development.

Alt. D – Resource enhancement, maintaining the plateau’s ecological richness and unique ecosystem values, using active management techniques.

Alt. E – Oil and gas leasing emphasis, which would allow for oil and gas leasing in the least restrictive manner.

Alt. F – Natural and primitive recreation emphasis, which would preserve the present recreational setting and experience, using passive management techniques.

Four of the alternatives, alternatives B, C, D and F, also include the potential for long-term protection through wilderness study area, areas of critical environmental concern, and wild and scenic river designations.

Although currently there is no preferred alternative, Commissioner Walt Stowe commented that he favored alternative F.

“At first blush, I like the last one,” he said.

Commissioner Larry McCown was not present.

At the end of the presentation, Goodenow asked the commissioners if they wanted be a cooperating agency with the BLM in determining the final land use plan for the plateau. He noted the importance of BLM-managed lands fitting into the county’s long-range planning.

“We need to definitely be a participant,” agreed Martin. “We need to step up and be involved in the long-term and short-term.”

The two entities agreed to a deadline of mid-September to formalize the partnership, and will devise an agreement that spells out how they will be involved. In the meantime, the commissioners will schedule an evening workshop, open to the public, to reinforce or eliminate the six alternatives.

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