The Bush administration has had a strange way of uniting folks in the West. In particular, hunters, sportsmen, local communities, local businesses and enviros have come together to fight back when the "drill it all" mentality of the oil businessman president ran into treasured publc lands.
And in surprising places, this coalition has staved off the onslaught. On the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana - home to the nation's second largest elk herd, bighorn sheep and grizzlies - the coalition won a ban on new oil and gas leases from Congress.
Far to the south, at Otero Mesa in New Mexico - a desert grassland wilderness - a hunter-enviro coalition with huge support from Governor Bill Richardson has worked for years to slow the BLM's plan to lease the area. Earthjustice has worked with this coalition, filing a lawsuit pending in appeals court to protect the area. Years after the fight over Otero began, the area still hasn't been drilled.
Even in Wyoming, the state that gave us Dick Cheney, sportsmen and enviros have worked with the state's Republican Senator Barasso to craft legislation that would put 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range off limits to any new energy development and allow existing leases there to be retired. And the area has, for the most part, survived the Administration's drilling onslaught.
The latest test will be in Colorado, where the unlikely alliance has come together to fight for the Roan Plateau - which the BLM says it will open up for natural gas exploration June 13...this Friday. Despite opposition from local mayors, much of Colorado's congressional delegation as well as the hunter-angler-conservationist coalition, the Bushies have steadfastly plowed ahead, driving enemies together.
In one way, the Bush administration's fixation on sacrificing the wilderness and wildlife values of the Roan on the altar of natural gas is odd. Compared with the Rocky Mountain Front, Wyoming Range, and Otero Mesa, where the BLM has backed down or at least slowed down its pursuit of energy, the Roan is tiny - less than 100,000 acres (the others are half a million acres or more). Meanwhile, industry is already having a field day below the Plateau and planning to drill tens of thousands of rigs nearby in the Piceance Basin.
But there's a lot of gas under the Roan, and industry is determined to get it. And despite the fact that Colorado's Gov. Bill Ritter was elected on a platform of protecting roadless areas and the jump-starting the "new energy economy," the vision of millions of dollars of gas royalities flowing into the state's coffers appears to have hypnotized some in his administration.
Gov. Ritter did ask BLM to adopt a plan to drill only some of the environmentally sensitive parts of the Roan, a plan that caused grumbling in the conservation community. (Even that modest proposal was not enough for the drill-it-all Bushies, however.) But the Governor hasn't exactly said he'd go to the mat to protect this wilderness gem for future generations. That's disappointing, given that democrats and republicans in red-state Wyoming are woking together to protect an area more than ten times as large as the Roan.
BLM's almost certain June 13 announcement that it will lease the entire Roan will be another test for the hook-n-bullet, Birkenstock-n-backpack team. There's still time for the team to pull out another win, but crunchtime is getting closer.