Landowners, farmers, hunters, and other users of the HD Mountains in Colorado went to court today to challenge a court ruling allowing dozens of methane wells planned for roadless watersheds and critical winter wildlife habitat near Bayfield to proceed.
Filed by Earthjustice — representing the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Wild and The Wilderness Society — the appeal contests a district court ruling handed down in May allowing the gas drilling projects in the San Juan National Forest.
“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” said Jim Fitzgerald, who farms on 380 acres adjacent to the HD Mountains. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”
The Forest Service and BLM adopted the drilling plan despite acknowledging that it was inconsistent with requirements in the current San Juan Forest Plan to protect old-growth forest, wildlife habitat, water quality and riparian areas. The agencies also violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to assess the drilling’s true environmental impacts on wildlife and air quality. Despite these acknowledged legal inconsistencies, the district court allowed the project to go forward. Earthjustice will challenge this conclusion on appeal in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Industry plans for drilling the HD Mountains, as approved by the U.S. Forest Service, will lace the currently roadless mountains with at least 11 miles of new roads cut into some of the steepest and most rugged terrain in the San Juan Mountains. The HD Mountains are one of the last remaining low elevation roadless areas in Colorado. The roads and gas pads will obliterate remaining stands of unlogged, old-growth ponderosa pine forests in the HD Mountains, many over 300 years old. Also damaged would be several undeveloped, low-elevation watersheds.
When the San Juan National Forest drafted a plan in 2004 for turning the wild HD Mountains near Bayfield into an industrial gas field, more than 70,000 concerned individuals submitted critical comments on this plan. Five local governments unanimously passed resolutions favoring roadless area protection and keeping drilling off the Fruitland outcrop.
“The HD Mountains are a main migration corridor for elk and deer, one of the few that remain intact,” said Mike Murphy, a hunting outfitter for the past 25 years. “Drilling operations and roads will unquestionably fragment their habitat, disrupt their migration and scatter the herds.”