Group a voice for deer in time of need |

Group a voice for deer in time of need

Carrie Click
Post Independent staff writer

RIFLE ” The back dining room at the Fireside Inn was abuzz with discussions, keynote speakers, and a spirited raffle and live auction Saturday night at the banquet of the Rifle/Glenwood Springs chapter of the Colorado Mule Deer Association.

More than 100 local association members ” plus spouses and family ” gathered to discuss Colorado’s mule deer population, share hunting stories, and listen to legislative updates from association director Denny Behrens and co-founder Keith Goddard ” all while dining on thick slabs of prime rib, mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables.

Goddard, owner of Magnum Outfitters in Rifle, and Alan Storey of Grand Junction co-founded the Colorado Mule Deer Association in 1995. The nonprofit organization’s headquarters is in Grand Junction, and the Rifle/Glenwood Springs area operates its own chapter.

Goddard said he and Storey co-founded the group following their concerns about Colorado’s diminishing mule deer population.

“Leading up to ’95, the population was dropping off dramatically,” Goddard said. “We thought, what can we as sportsmen do to get the deer population back up?”

Goddard said there are many reasons for lower mule deer numbers in the state. Predators, shrinking habitat due to development, and increased oil industry activity all contribute ” as does hunting.

So for starters, the group advocated limited draws for deer hunting licenses, thereby limiting the number of deer that could be harvested by hunters in a season.

“There’s not one cause,” Goddard said of the decline in deer numbers. “But we wanted to do what we could to put the deer population back in balance, and take the pressure off.”

Goddard said the association’s concern for mule deer isn’t limited to just that species.

“Anything that impacts deer is going to impact other species,” he said. “We look at the overall carrying capacity of deer habitat.”

Impacts on the Roan

Bob Elderkin of Silt, who is retired after 18 years with the Bureau of Land Management, attended Saturday night’s dinner. He and Goddard have been instrumental voices for protecting the top of the Roan Plateau ” a prime hunting and fishing area ” from overdevelopment by the oil and gas industry.

The top of the plateau is public land administered by the BLM, and is currently protected and unavailable for lease by private enterprise. But the BLM is about to release a draft management plan that is expected to propose allowing drilling on top.

“We’re making the assumption that the top of the Roan will be leased,” Elderkin said of the Colorado Mule Deer Association’s stance.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney support gas development on the Roan Plateau.

In late January, Elderkin and Goddard flew to Washington D.C. They met with aides from the offices of Colorado senators Ben Campbell and Wayne Allard and spoke at the National Press Club regarding the impacts the proposed National Energy Bill could have on fish and wildlife habitat, particularly on top of the Roan Plateau.

One for 640

“We’re not opposed to natural gas exploration on the Roan,” said Elderkin. “But we do want to restrict the numbers of surface drilling pads to one pad per 640 acres.”

That could cut down significantly on the impacts natural gas drilling has on the Roan’s habitat. And Elderkin said it can be done feasibly. In fact, Elderkin believes this kind of low-impact surface drilling could even be more profitable to the gas industry.

Elderkin said that 10 years ago, a well pad cost, on average, $40,000 to install. That well pad only used one well, straight down, to access one natural gas reserve.

But now, technology has advanced and the same well pad can use directional drilling ” that is, underground pipelines that all lead back to the same pad. Using this technology, oil companies don’t have to make the same negative impacts they used to on the surface. One pad, he said can pull in natural gas from up to 140 sources using directional drilling.

“That means,” Elderkin said, “that instead of 140 well pads, with 140 roads and the costs associated with 140 sites, they can do the same thing with one pad.”

Costs will be incurred in directional drilling, of course, but those costs are less than, or at the worst, equal to, building well pad after well pad and road after road.

Goddard said the “one for 640″ restriction is good for the industry, and good for preserving habitat ” and Mule Deer Association member and Delta-based veterinarian Dick Steele agreed.

“There was a study done on cow elk between Aspen and Vail,” Steele said. “One group of elk were left completely undisturbed, and the other was disturbed once a week ” not physically, but enough for the elk to pick their heads up and look around. The cow/calf ratio on the disturbed groups was half of what the undisturbed group’s was. What do you think is going to happen if there are hundreds of well pads and roads up on the Roan?”

“It’s a compromise,” said Goddard. “Both sides have got to compromise on this if we’re going to keep a healthy habitat for wildlife and energy production in Colorado.”

The Colorado Mule Deer Association’s Rifle/Glenwood Springs chapter urges people to write their national elected officials in support of a “one well pad for 640 acres” restriction for natural gas production on the Roan Plateau.

For more information on the association’s stance on the bill, contact the Colorado Mule Deer Association at (970) 241-8058.

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