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Crybabies of the West

Let’s say you have three kids, and one big piece of cake to divide amongst them. One kicks and cries and whines. "I want it ALL," the baby screams. "I want it all NOW!" The other two say, "We want our fair share."

To keep the decibel level in the house at acceptable levels, and because you’re a whimp, you give the crybaby 90 percent of the cake. But even that doesn’t work. The baby still whines and cries and kicks and screams, "I want it ALL. I don’t care what brother and sister get."

Meet the oil and gas industry in Colorado, the crybaby of the West's public lands debate.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this week made its decision for managing the competing multiple uses of 2.4 million acres of America’s public land in the northwest corner of Colorado. The agency’s plan for the Little Snake Field Office, as the area is called, cut the cake to leave 90 percent of public lands open to oil and gas leasing.

It wasn’t enough, apparently. The industry demanded more. The spokesperson for the "Western Energy Alliance" complained that giving her industry access to only 90 percent of public lands amounted to the imposition of a "conservation-only approach."  Really?

In particular, the industry was crying because it didn't get to drive a stake through the heart of one of the last intact wild areas in the region – the spectacular Vermillion Basin.

The problem with giving the entire public lands cake to industry is that while some uses can occur at the same time and in the same place – think wildlife and wilderness – others can’t. Roadless, wild areas like Vermillion can’t coexist with oil and gas drilling. And studies show that the vanishing icon of the high desert – sage grouse – don’t fair so well either when oil and gas wells and roads criss-cross their habitat. Deer populations in nearby areas have been halved since petroleum development ramped up in the last decade or two.  Even songbird populations are taking a hit from oil and gas drilling across the border in Wyoming.

Should the crybabies in the oil and gas industry get it all?  No way. Even 90 percent was probably too much.

America's public lands should have room for wild areas and wildlife, and not just whiners who make their profits at the expense of values that increasingly are found nowhere else but on those public lands.