Federal Plan Will Protect Roan Plateau From Oil And Gas Drilling

15-year campaign saves one of most biologically rich landscapes in Colorado


Mike Freeman, Earthjustice (720) 989-6896


Jonathon Berman, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3033


Anastasia Greene, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-2624


Judith Kohler, National Wildlife Federation, (720) 315-0855

The Bureau of Land Management Thursday released its long-awaited plan for protecting the Roan Plateau, an extraordinary landscape known for rich wildlife, rare plants and scenic vistas.

The Roan Plateau is known as one of the most biologically rich places in Colorado, on par with several national parks and monuments.

“Today’s plan protects the Roan Plateau for all Coloradans to enjoy,” said Mike Freeman, an Earthjustice staff attorney who represented conservation and sportsmen groups working to defend the Roan. “It’s been a long road, but this amazing place will finally get the protections it deserves.”

The plan is the outcome of more than 15 years of public campaigns and court challenges to oil and gas development on the plateau. BLM and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program have ranked the top of the plateau as one of the most biologically rich places in Colorado and on par with several national parks and monuments.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of more than 15 years of tireless work by environmental groups, activists, sportsmen groups, and Americans who want to protect our public lands,” said Dan Chu, Director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We applaud this plan that protects the beauty and sensitive wildlife habitat of Roan Plateau from the development of dirty fuels, and ensure all can continue to enjoy its beauty.”

In a period when the oil and gas industry and states are trying to assert control over public lands to encourage resource extraction, the Roan illustrates the benefit of a balanced approach that recognizes the threats that drilling poses to the West’s remarkable public lands.  

“The Roan Plateau decision represents the type of agreement we can make about public lands management when everyone comes to the table,” said Nada Culver, Wilderness Society senior director for agency policy and planning. “We all learned important lessons over the course of the fight for the Roan. When people care about a place and see the value of saving its natural character for future generations, they will continue to press on. Today’s decision is a big deal for Coloradans and our public lands.”

Insights into the plan are available.

The plan follows a settlement reached in 2014 between oil and gas companies, environmental groups, and federal officials. That settlement resulted in the cancellation of nearly all of the leases on the top of the plateau, and a refund of $47.6 million in lease payments from the federal government. The company that bought the leases atop the plateau had planned to drill more than 3,000 wells there, which would have turned the entire area into an industrial zone.  

The settlement also proposed a highly protective management approach that closes almost all of the top of the plateau to new leasing and development. In addition, it proposed additional protections for areas where drilling is allowed and called for recognizing the value of lands around the base of the plateau. BLM’s decision Thursday adopts this settlement approach for managing the Roan over the next 20 years.

The Roan Plateau settlement demonstrates why lands belonging to the American people should be kept in federal hands and managed for their long-term preservation—not just the short-term profits from oil and gas extraction. 

“This is a day that Colorado hunters, anglers, recreationists and people across the state have worked toward for nearly two decades. The Roan Plateau is a special place. It is home to genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout. It also provides key summer range on top and important winter range at its base for our herds of mule deer and elk,” said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. “This natural treasure sustains the hunting, fishing and wildlife watching that’s vital for the area economy. The decision today demonstrates the commitment of the Bureau of Land Management to the lands and people of Colorado.”

The valley below the Roan Plateau is dotted by oil and gas development.
The valley below the Roan Plateau is dotted by oil and gas development. (Photo courtesy of Ecoflight)

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