Majority of Roan Plateau leases canceled
17 of 19 leases on the Roan Plateau officially canceled.
By Meghan Cornwall
On January 16th, 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officially cancelled 17 of the 19 oil and gas leases that are on top of the Roan Plateau. This is in accordance to the settlement agreement reached in November 2014, stating that the leases had to be canceled within 60 days of the agreement. There are still 12 No Surface Occupancy leases at the base of the plateau. The BLM is working on a plan to allow the two remaining leases on top of the plateau and the 12 others near the base to be developed using directional drilling techniques.
Multiple stakeholders such as local, state, industry and conservation organizations, wanted to see a viable, balanced solution to support the wildlife, outdoor recreation, and energy development opportunities the Roan Plateau offers. The varied habitat and vegetation of the plateau make the area one of the most diverse places in Colorado. There are plants that are only found around the Roan Plateau, rare populations of native genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout (which are inhabiting only 10% of their historic range now) and many other species that depend on the plateau for their habitat. Because of these special species, the BLM has identified areas that are eligible as areas of critical environmental concern for protection.
“The Roan Plateau is a key part of the area economy and helps sustain the hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and other recreation. We appreciate a balanced settlement that will help to protect this important habitat,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
Additionally, the public lands on top and at the base of the plateau provide crucial winter and summer habitat, as well as migration corridors for big game such as mule deer and elk. Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts come to the Roan to hunt, fish and watch wildlife. The area is at the heart of what had been nicknamed by sportsmen as the “mule deer factory of Colorado”, due to the abundant mule deer. Muley numbers, however, have plummeted in recent years. Western Colorado’s overall estimated deer population of about 300,000 in 2012 was more than 110,000 short of the state’s objective. While there are likely many causes for the drop in numbers, one looms large: habitat loss. Oil and gas drilling and new roads and buildings have fragmented and covered over habitat. Reducing the footprint of oil and gas development on the Roan will help address those habitat losses. While the cancelation of these 17 leases is a great step forward, there is still work to be done. Sportsmen groups, conservation organizations, state, local and industry leaders will still need to collaborate during the drafting of the new Resource Management Plan. The BLM is currently writing the new management plan for the plateau and will consider a settlement alternative. It will hopefully include undisturbed big game winter ranges at the base of the plateau, intact big game migration corridors, state of the art drilling practices and no development in Colorado River Cutthroat Trout drainages to protect this iconic species.