One of Colorado’s richest environmental and wildlife gems, the Roan Plateau, has a new lease on life thanks to a federal court ruling Friday setting aside a BLM plan that would have allowed oil and gas companies to drill thousands of wells on 55,000 acres of the Roan.
(Michael Freeman / Earthjustice)
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Marcia S. Krieger in Denver, sets aside a resource management plan approved in 2007 during the Bush administration that would have sacrificed for oil and gas development some of North America’s rarest plants, genetically pure cutthroat trout, tens of thousands of acres of wilderness-quality land, and crucial habitat for prize herds of elk and deer. BLM had acknowledged that drilling the Roan would cause permanent and irreversible losses to native trout populations and rare plant species, and also that wilderness-quality lands and opportunities for backcountry recreation would be permanently destroyed.
Judge Krieger ruled that BLM’s plan should be set aside because the agency failed to consider a more balanced alternative that would have better protected the Roan’s wildlife, plants and pristine lands. In addition, the Court ruled, BLM failed to take a hard look at the air pollution that would result from drilling the Roan.
“The Roan Plateau is one of Colorado’s richest environmental and wildlife gems,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “The Court’s ruling means that the Roan will get a second look and hopefully preserved.”
Public interest law firm Earthjustice filed suit in 2008 to challenge the Bush-era BLM leasing plan on behalf of Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Wild, Rock The Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and Wilderness Workshop.
Area residents, elected officials, conservation, hunting and angling groups have long advocated for protecting the Roan Plateau. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program has described the top of the Roan as one of the four most biologically rich areas in the state, with the other three areas already part of the National Park System. BLM has stated that while the Roan is “the only area of the four that does not have protective status such as that afforded to National Parks or Monuments, it is clearly of comparable biological significance.”
The Roan also serves as an economic mainstay by supporting western Colorado’s hunting and angling businesses. The land around the base of the Roan provides vital winter habitat that sustains some of the Colorado’s best mule deer and elk herds.
“Judge Krieger’s decision reinforces our obligation to consider wildlife, habitat, and local community impacts as a priority instead of an afterthought,” said National Wildlife Federation regional representative John Gale. “The Roan Plateau and the important winter range at its base supports populations of big game like mule deer that are some of the region’s most sought after by hunters. Its picturesque canyons have been cut by coldwater streams that have held native Colorado River Cutthroat trout since the Ice Age making it a destination for anglers everywhere. We have a second chance to get it right on the Roan and the communities that depend on hunting, fishing and recreation to keep their economies going through energy boom and bust cycles demand that we do a better job taking care of the resources that will sustain us into the future.”
Scott Braden, Conservation Director for the Colorado Mountain Club, called the ruling a win for Coloradans who recreate on public lands. “There is a great opportunity for exploration, hunting, fishing and solitude on the Roan Plateau. It is great news for all of us that BLM will take another look at protecting these irreplaceable resources,” Braden said.
Joshua Ruschhaupt, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Director, commented that “this court decision is a victory for Coloradans who care about their air, water and land. While it’s unfortunate that the courts must force the oil and gas industry and BLM to do what is required for the sake of public health and safety, our climate and treasured places like the Roan Plateau, this decision rightly puts the industry and lax government oversight in check to quell a seemingly boundless appetite for destruction.”