I was out on my daily wildlife walk when I spotted a Jeep Cherokee pull up and park on a lonely dirt road. From my ridgetop location, I saw the occupants stacking what appeared to be trash on the ground from the back of their vehicle. I went in for a closer look and was a little embarrassed when I got close enough to see that it was just an aquarium, a duffle bag and some shoes. The young couple in the Jeep were obviously performing some after-school biology experiment in the back seat. Future generations in the making.
The Bush administration is also making plans for future generations. Drilling on the Roan Plateau is a large part of Bush’s plan, and that’s the rub. The Roan Plateau is wilderness-quality land that future generations will never know if industrialized development of oil and gas is permitted to occur.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton has said that Colorado is more supportive of oil and gas development than coastal regions because we understand how development can be done without harming the environment. Oh, really. She should talk to the people in Rulison who have had their water contaminated and their lives disrupted, not just our Republican politicians whose campaign contributions are fueled with oil and gas.
If you’ve never been to the Roan Plateau, now is a good time to go. The snows have melted and the roads are dry from the JQS Trail to Piceance Creek over the plateau. Do be prepared for fallen aspen trees on some roads including Long Ridge Road, and don’t forget your jacket if you go. It’s still cold and very windy at 9200 feet elevation.
On Tuesday afternoon of this week, I spent four hours exploring various dirt roads on the plateau, and I never saw another person beyond the JQS Trail. It’s nice. It’s a wilderness on wheels experience. There are perfectly good roads through perfectly wild places. There was more elk and bear poop on some routes than there were vehicle tracks. I had to stop often for brown snakes who use the roads to warm themselves. I heard wild turkeys from my car and saw a coyote and a grouse.
The Colorado Environmental Coalition has said that the Roan Plateau is home to populations of native cutthroat trout and “several endangered species,” though I didn’t see any. Perennial streams feed the habitat with a rich level of biological diversity. Beavers have plugged upper reaches of some streams creating mini-ecosystems for all sorts of creatures.
Did you know that there’s a 200-foot-high waterfall on the Roan Plateau? It’s one of the state’s highest waterfalls.
Have you ever followed the rim road to Anvil Points? It`s one of the most spectacular views in Colorado. Follow the road down the hill to the west side of Anvil Points, and walk down to the edge of the shale cliffs. If you’re not amazed, I’ll be amazed.
Panoramic views all along the rim are outstanding; Grand Mesa, Mamm Creek, Rifle, the Colorado River, Mount Sopris, Capital Peak, the Grand Hogback, the Flat Tops, the Gore Range, the Elk Mountains, and on and on.
The varied scenery within the Plateau itself includes immense aspen groves, dense spruce-fir forests, pinyon-juniper woodland, sage brush parks and rolling hills blanketed with wildflowers and native grasses. Many flowers are already blooming and attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
The natural richness of the Roan Plateau should be apparent to anyone who visits the area. What is not immediately apparent is that the area is also rich in oil and gas resources. The extraction of this resource would dramatically undermine the natural qualities of the plateau. The visual intrusions of derricks, flares, tanks, trucks, new roads and increased traffic would be compounded by the noise, dust and residual side effects of oil and gas production. It would not be unreasonable to expect contaminated water to degrade the limited water supplies.
Critics of the oil and gas industry argue that the only way to protect the area is to create a wilderness. Critics of a wilderness proposal complain about being “locked out.”
Another possible solution would be to divide the Plateau in two. Everything north of Long Ridge Road could be opened up to drilling and recreation while everything south of Long Ridge Road to the rim could have restricted access. The rim road to Anvil Points would have limited access. Since the drainages would be on opposite sides of the ridge, one would not severely impact the other.
Neither side will like this solution, but it might be fair.
Future generations will have to live with the decisions we make today, so we must be careful about the choices we make, especially when those decisions are made in the backseat of your Mom’s Cherokee.
Bernie Boettcher’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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