EcoFlight flew a group of students from Colorado Mountain College over the Roan Plateau for the aerial perspective of what they are studying. Students had the opportunity to see the intact parts of on the Roan, and the heavy amount of development around its base and the private lands on top, and saw the Thompson Divide, a roadless area that provides important wildlife habitat and is an economic driver for local communities.
Ecosystems at the base of the Roan Plateau are characterized by vast expanses of sage shrublands. These shrublands provide essential winter habitat for Mule Deer and year round habitat for Greater Sage Grouse. Populations of both species are declining and the grouse are proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Key reasons for their decline include habitat fragmentation and loss due to development, especially oil and gas development.
Habitat at the base of the Roan is also home to several rare plant species that are listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act – these plants are listed primarily because of their natural rarity and are typically found nowhere else in the world except the small area in these scrubland habitats in and around the Roan Plateau.
Students also flew over the Thompson Divide, where the Forest Service recently released their final oil and gas leasing plan which strengthens protections for roadless areas throughout the Forest, and closes much of the Thompson Divide to further leasing!
But the 221,500 acre Thompson Divide area is still at risk to oil and gas development from existing leases in the area. As a mostly intact ecosystem, it provides enormous value to the community. Not only does it contain critical wildlife habitat for Colorado Cutthroat Trout, lynx, moose, bear, deer, elk, and mountain lions, and provide clean air and water - the Thompson Divide contributes $30 million dollars a year to the local economy and supports nearly 300 Colorado jobs. Locals identify with this pristine area, as it represents the heritage, culture, source of food and a way of life for Coloradoans. A diverse coalition of locals is working to retire or buy back the leases to protect the area for future generations.