Hunting access on the Roan north of Rifle to be restricted | PostIndependent.com

Hunting access on the Roan north of Rifle to be restricted

Upon learning that popular hunting grounds for many locals may soon be fenced off by new property owners, Rifle resident Robert Winn started up the Roan Area Access Project. In a matter of weeks, he has received hundreds of responses from hunters around the country concerned with the issue.

Winn created a Facebook group of the same name in hopes of finding a solution with the new private property owners, Caerus Oil and Gas LLC, and the public. As of Friday, the group had over 500 members.

On Thursday, Winn hosted an informational meeting to discuss how the new owners may affect public hunting access to units 22 and 32 in southern Rio Blanco County. His goal was to show that this is an issue that more than a few hunters care about.

"When I heard there was still a chance I decided I had to do something to show it is not just a few hunters," he told the crowd of dozens of hunters. "My initial goal was to get awareness to the issue and show that there is interest from the community."

For years, previous owner Encana had allowed hunting to take place on its private property on the Roan Plateau, several thousands of acres known as the “Girls Claims.” But when Caerus Oil and Gas acquired the property, that agreement could no longer be expected to continue.

“Our first priority is protecting the safety of our workers, the community, the environment and our operations. After thoughtful consideration, we have decided to restrict public access to property formerly owned by Encana along Divide Road,” Michael Rynearson, Vice President of Operations Caerus Oil and Gas LLC, said in a statement sent to local news outlets this week. “We understand that some in the community have enjoyed access to this private property and will be disappointed with this decision. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado has 23 million acres of public land.”

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Wildlife and Garfield County officials were at Thursday’s meeting and spoke in support of Winn’s initiative, but added that as private landowners, Caerus has every right to shut down public access.

In attendance at Thursday night's meeting, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said that he and his sons have hunted this particular land, and spoke to the fact that importance of hunting.

"For a lot of people out here hunting is a tradition," he said. "I've hunted up there, and my sons have hunted up there, we understand you."

That said, he added that Caerus as a private property owner has property rights that must be respected.

He mentioned Garfield County's recent tax settlement with Caerus and said how "Caerus has been a good player" in excusing the county from paying interest in the settlement, whereas he is "very disappointed" in Encana's unwillingness to forgive the interest.

"I hope that [Caerus] will continue to be a good player," Samson said.

He added that he'd be willing to see if the county could pass a resolution in support of the Roan Area Access Project efforts.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also provided a statement on the situation.

“Caerus Oil and Gas has indicated they may no longer allow access to hunters, as is their right,” according to the statement. “CPW recognizes this decision will impact many hunters.”

However, CPW said it “respects the rights of private landowners to use their lands in their own best interests. We do not have the authority to direct any private landowner to provide access for hunting.”

CPW said it continues to work closely with all landowners, including oil and gas companies, to pursue natural resource management objectives and gain hunting access where possible.

“CPW values it working relationship with Caerus and other oil and gas companies,” the agency continued in its statement. “With that in mind, agency representatives will continue constructive discussions with Caerus … any decision to allow access is solely at the discretion of the company.”