For the last decade, local community members have been coming together to protect public lands in Colorado's Continental Divide for future generations to enjoy. The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis and would preserve roughly 58,000 acres in Summit and Eagle counties as wilderness and special management areas.
Public lands are owned by "All Americans" and I'm not talking about a group of college sports figures. I'm talking about your average everyday Joe who is fortunate enough to be an American citizen with a legacy of public lands that are "owned by all Americans".
Mining and smelting operations at the headwaters of the Clark Fork delivered copper for electricity to the United States for over a century. Long before environmental laws were in place, a massive flood in 1908 washed millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream and deposited metals in the floodplain for over 120 river miles.
Our flight took us over two proposed mines in the Cabinet Mountains, the Cabinet Wilderness Area, and around to view the Scotchman Peaks, which are proposed for a wilderness designation.  We crossed the Kootenay River to tour the Yaak Mountain watershed, an area where Y2Y and its partners - the Yaak Valley Forest Council, InRoads Consulting, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Transportation Institute and Vital Ground are taking a number of science-based approaches to protect private and public lands for wildlife habitat connectivity.  
The Roan Plateau looms over Rifle, as viewed during a 2012 EcoFlight flyover of the area.Post Independent file |

The Roan Plateau looms over Rifle, as viewed during a 2012 EcoFlight flyover of the area.

In the process of revising plans concerning oil and gas development on and around the Roan Plateau, the Bureau of Land Management could not determine consensus for addressing recreational target shooting at a popular location within the planning boundaries.

In its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and Proposed Plan Amendment release Tuesday, BLM laid out a plan in line with a 2014 settlement concerning oil and gas development on and around the Roan Plateau — a long-standing issue.

“The release of the Final EIS puts us one step closer to finally resolving the controversy surrounding the Roan Plateau,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said in a press release. “It implements the vision put forward in 2014 by a group of local, state and industry leaders, as well as sportsmen and conservationists, by protecting some of Colorado’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for the responsible development of the oil and gas resources in the areas where it makes the most sense.”

However, since the settlement, the oil and gas issue has taken a back seat, at least at the local level, to concerns over user conflicts in Hubbard Mesa, a popular recreation spot north of Rifle.

Much of the debate has pitted recreationists fearing deadly consequences stemming from errant target shooting and other users fighting against limitations on recreation in the area — one historically frequented by target shooters.

The Roan SEIS presented an opportunity to make land use changes related to target shooting at Hubbard Mesa, David Boyd, public affairs specialist with the BLM’s Northwest Colorado District, said in an email. Those changes were dependent on broad consensus among stakeholders, which the BLM was unable to find.

“So we are not making any changes through this plan,” Boyd said. “We are continuing to work with stakeholders to find opportunities for education and better signage.”

Both the city of Rifle and Garfield County, which are cooperating agencies, submitted letters asking BLM to address recreational target shooting outside of the Roan planning process.

Representatives from the city, county and BLM met in early May for a site visit at Hubbard Mesa intended to gain a better geographic understanding of the area and start discussions on education and enforcement tactics dealing with errant target shooting and illegal dumping — the latter is an ongoing problem in the increasingly popular recreation area.

Shortly after, City Council hosted a debriefing for several members who were unable to attend the site visit. At the meeting, some councilors raised the idea of establishing a shooting facility in the area that could resemble one that Colorado Parks and Wildlife operates near Rifle Gap.

Since then, City Council has not publicly discussed the issue of user conflicts at Hubbard Mesa.

In a press release, BLM noted it received more than 50,000 comments while preparing the final SEIS. Most of those urged the agency to follow the 2014 settlement regarding oil and gas development.

Under the proposed plan, the 17 oil and gas leases canceled as part of the 2014 settlement would be closed to leasing. Two other leases on top of the plateau and 12 more below the rim will remain open to leasing and development subject to the terms and conditions of those leases and the new stipulations identified in the SEIS, according to BLM.

In prepared statements, representatives from energy groups as well as conservation efforts noted the lengthy process leading to Tuesday’s announcement.

“It certainly has been a long road to get to this point. It’s been nearly two decades since BLM transferred the Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3 to BLM for the express purpose of developing the natural gas resource,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement. “We’re just glad that this final EIS, which represents a compromise between the companies holding the leases, environmental groups, the state and federal government is done, and responsible development can move forward.”

David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, offered similar remarks.

“Our distaste for the decision to lock away energy resources in the core of the Piceance Basin is offset by consolation that WSCOGA members retain at least some value from their $120 million … investment,” he said in an email. “Under the settlement alternative, leases formally held hostage at the base of the Roan Plateau will be deshackled and allowed re-entry into the nation’s energy portfolio in the coming years.”

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, noted in a statement that Tuesday’s news was not the absolute end of the process — there will be a 30-day protest period and a governor’s consistency review period once the final SEIS is published July 1 — but shared his optimism regarding the development.

“We have pushed for protection of the Roan Plateau for more than 10 years, and, while we’re still reviewing the plan, today it appears that all that hard work and persistence is paying off,” he said. “This isn’t a final decision, but BLM looks poised to embrace a management plan that prioritizes conserving important natural values. That solution has been endorsed by conservation groups and industry alike. It’s too bad it took so much fighting to get here, but all that may have been worth it if the Roan is protected when a decision is released.”

The Rock Springs BLM field office is revising its Resource Management Plan, which will impact how a large portion of the Red Desert is managed for the next 20-25 years. Our partners are working to ensure that special wild landscapes in the Red Desert are adequately protected during this administrative process so that these landscapes remain intact for future congressional protections.
The High Divide is one of the most important linkage areas in the Northern Rockies, connecting valuable tracts of wildlife habitat: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Central Idaho, and the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. Ensuring wildlife can move through the High Divide to any of these core regions is essential to keeping healthy wildlife populations intact.
Now I fly a Cessna 210 that is one thirsty ole gal. We burn around 17 gallons an hour in cruise, and on climb out, with the pedal to the metal, we burn over 22 gph. Hence, when I am often interviewed I make sure I use my patented phrase, "EcoFlight is not against oil and gas drilling but we feel very strongly that it CAN and MUST be done properly and there are places that it just should not be done".

EcoFlight provided overflights out of Moab, UT as a platform for Native American tribes and the climbing community to come together and talk about the Bears Ears National Monument proposal. Native American leaders have invited themselves to the table to gather input on public lands management in San Juan County, southeast Utah. Sacred places and important biological areas were identified by Native American elders, spiritual leaders, hunters, gatherers and conservation scientists to form the boundaries of a 1.9 million-acre proposal in 2010, now called the Bears Ears...

Students from science classes at Yampah, Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs high schools on Wednesday got a look at the big picture of what a watershed looks like from the cockpit of small airplanes as they flew over the Roaring Fork River watershed.
Our flight took us over the spectacular canyons of Dinosaur National Monument and the Green and Yampah Rivers, where 300,000 annual visitors spend $17 million a year. The BLM recently finalized a Master Leasing Plan for oil and gas development in the surrounding area, which identifies ecologically sensitive areas and balances the needs of energy developers with protections for the natural and cultural resources, night skies, and quiet, natural landscapes of the national monument.
The snow was blowing sideways. The visibility was variable around ½ mile. Our old familiar Highway 82 was not far below, showing us the way down the Roaring Fork valley once again. I said to my copilot, "copilot, it seems like we have been here before".
Rep. Scott Tipton has released a discussion draft of the Western Colorado Lease Exchange and Conservation Act of 2016. The bill closely resembles a proposal put forth by industry last year and proposes to exchange controversial leases in the Thompson Divide for new leases in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison national forests.
There was smoke in the distance and you could see the columns of flame towering over the trees on the horizon. As we moved north the air began to move upward and downward alarmingly, and it was obvious that the fires of Yellowstone were creating the gusts and thermals.
The BLM's Tres Rios office is looking at a Master Leasing Plan for western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County. An MLP is a planning tool that lets both citizens and energy companies work to identify where and how responsible oil and gas development can take place, and where conflicts might exist - before leasing occurs.
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