Conservation groups were in court Friday filing their response to Bill Barrett Corporation’s (BBC) effort to turn back the clock on Colorado’s Roan Plateau. While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the plateau, is already moving forward to consider a new management plan for the Roan, BBC is seeking to halt BLM’s effort.
Parachute Creek Canyon, Roan Plateau. The Roan supports a significant economy in hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation. (Michael Freeman / Earthjustice)
In June of last year, Judge Krieger of the U.S. District Court for Colorado struck down BLM’s earlier plan for the Roan Plateau, and ordered the agency to consider more protective approaches for managing this special place. BLM is complying with that order and began a new environmental review process earlier this year. Only BBC, which in 2009 proposed to turn the top of the plateau into an industrial zone of 3,000 natural gas wells, has challenged Judge Krieger’s ruling.
“We’re glad that BLM is going back to the drawing board and considering a new plan for the Roan Plateau,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “We will continue this fight in the appellate Court to ensure that the agency can give the Roan the protection it deserves.”
Judge Krieger’s 2012 ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of a coalition of sportsmen’s and conservation groups to challenge BLM’s earlier plan for the Plateau.
“BLM’s plan, which was adopted during the waning days of the Bush administration, would have sacrificed one of Colorado’s natural gems to the oil and gas industry,” said Peter Hart of Wilderness Workshop, one of the groups that had challenged the plan in the original lawsuit. “The district court recognized that there is a better way, and sent the plan back to BLM to reconsider. We hope the Court of Appeals will affirm that ruling.”
The Colorado Natural Heritage Program ranks the Roan Plateau as one of the four most biologically rich areas in Colorado—the other three are already protected as part of the National Park System. An estimated 59 threatened or sensitive animal species are known to or may live in and around the Planning Area. The top of the Plateau is home to “nationally and regionally significant” populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout. The Roan also provides a stronghold for Mule deer and elk, and is home to some of the rarest plants in North America. As a consequence of this natural bounty, the Roan Plateau supports a significant economy in hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation.
“We offered a common-sense middle-ground approach that would have allowed development to occur in appropriate places while protecting the top of the Roan Plateau from drilling,” said Marc Ross of Rock the Earth, one of the groups that had challenged plan in the original lawsuit. “The district court recognized that the Community Alternative merited a full review by BLM. We hope the Court will reject Bill Barrett’s effort to block that review.”
“There are few areas in Colorado like the Roan Plateau,” added Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado Education Fund. “The District Court was correct in ruling that the Bureau of Land Management has to do a better job of analyzing the significant environmental impacts that will come if the Plateau is opened up to heavy industrial drilling. The sooner this case is dismissed the sooner a common-sense plan for the Plateau can be developed which will protect this treasured landscape for future generations to enjoy.”
Earthjustice represents Conservation Colorado Education Fund (formerly 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 in this matter.