Colorado Backcountry Conservation Areas 12-4-12

Dec 4, 2012

EcoFlight flew our partner organization Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and members of the press to bring attention to backcountry areas in northwestern Colorado. We also took a look at nearby oil and gas development and discussed potential wildlife impacts of a proposed new development scenario in the BLM’s Oil and Gas Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA). The overflight was helped to supplement outreach efforts for public open house focusing on the wildlife aspects of the RMPA.

Promoted through select local land-use planning efforts in Colorado, Oregon and Nevada, Backcountry Conservation Areas are being proposed by sportsmen. These areas would protect existing motorized access to public lands, enable managers to improve and restore habitat and safeguard traditional land uses such as ranching- while conserving special places with premium fish and wildlife habitat from development. Sportsmen are hopeful that this new ground-up model will be embraced by the BLM.

Our flight took us over high-value big game habitat and some of the most sought-after big game public hunting areas in the country. The lands fall within the BLM’s White River Field Office in northwestern Colorado, where the agency has recently drafted an amended Oil & Gas Resource Management Plan. The draft currently proposes 14,000 new wells and a new form of incentive-based year-round development

Mule deer are especially sensitive to changes in habitat caused by surface disturbance. Restoring their habitat remains difficult, and recent studies suggest that mule deer avoid even small amounts of disturbance. The BLM’s proposed management calls for maintaining a 70% long-term population objective for mule deer. This objective is based on the current mule deer populations in the field office, which already have declined a great deal over the last 50-75 years.

Sportsmen on Colorado’s West Slope are concerned about a potential 30% loss of big game and proposing that the WRFO recognize the management direction outlined in the Backcountry Conservation Area (BCA) concept. BCAs would mitigate the impacts of intense development in the Piceance Basin and give animals places for refuge. BCAs also would provide sportsmen with open and accessible public lands hunting in areas they’ve been relying on for years.