November 16, 2007
The Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Mule Deer Association protested a Bureau of Land Management decision that allows extensive natural gas development in key big-game habitat south of Parachute without requiring adequate steps to protect Colorado’s wildlife.
BLM rejected the CWF-NWF-CMDA Request for Review.
The Protest (Request for Review)
The protest, filed by the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Mule Deer Association and National Wildlife Federation, states the BLM failed to require a plan detailing the full extent of development in the South Parachute Geographic Area Plan (GAP). The groups also said the plan approved by the BLM failed to accurately disclose the intensity of impacts to mule deer winter range. The three groups ask BLM to reconsider and withdraw the development plans.
The area, just south of Parachute and Interstate 70, is classic winter range—vital for survival during the bitterest winter months—for Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer, two of the West’s premier native wildlife species. Mule deer from Battlement Mesa move into the area each fall, a pattern they have followed for centuries.
In particular, the groups emphasize that the EnCana Energy plan BLM approved doesn’t consider the readily predictable impacts from long-term development of the South Parachute area. Instead, the plan covers only the first phase of gas development over a three-year period, while ignoring impacts from the additional drilling necessary to complete development at the 10-acre down-hole spacing needed to fully recover the gas within the GAP.
“The proposed development BLM is allowing for the South Parachute GAP is just under the threshold that would trigger additional habitat mitigation measures under the existing Resource Management Plan,” said Bob Elderkin, a former BLM employee. “This decision is an example of what BLM is allowing the energy industry to get away with in the planning process by not fully stating all the development that will occur,” Elderkin explained.
“The BLM’s analysis artificially minimizes what the habitat impacts will actually be and relieves industry of any mitigation requirements,” Elderkin added. "It will take an estimated additional 240 wells and three new drill pads at projected spacing to reach full development.
“The way it’s working now, anything industry puts into a development plan, they’re going to get.”
BLM’s 1999 Glenwood Springs Resource Area Plan, which Elderkin helped write, requires full consideration of efforts to avoid or mitigate impacts to wildlife habitat during energy development—particularly once the intensity of development reaches certain levels within crucial winter range. BLM regulations also require BLM to consult with state wildlife agency officials and to consider the ultimate impacts of full development of an area rather than just the initial development phase.
The protest said neither action occurred.
"We object to the BLM's decision of "no significant impact,’" said Suzanne O’Neill, the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s executive director. “The BLM has utterly failed to propose a balanced plan that would conserve this very important mule deer winter range, given the reasonably foreseeable extent of development that likely will occur. If the BLM had taken into account the contemplated amount of development that’s going to take place here and in surrounding areas—beyond just these immediate plans for the next two to three years—it would have to acknowledge that there are going to be serious effects on big game herds."
Steve Torbit, the National Wildlife Federation’s regional executive director and a veteran wildlife biologist, was just as direct.
“This is a perfect example of the bait and switch approach that the BLM and the energy companies try to perpetrate on the public,” Torbit said. “These decisions can have lasting impacts on the future of the state’s wildlife in Western Colorado for decades to come.”
As a veteran BLM employee and long-time hunter and angler who lives near Silt, Elderkin views the BLM approval of the South Parachute development plan as part of a much larger mandate to make natural gas drilling the top priority.
“This is yet another example of how federal officials have made our wildlife and other natural resources expendable in their push to drill,” Elderkin said. “Development doesn’t have to occur this way, especially when you consider the resulting impacts to hunting, fishing and other recreation that’s so important to our economy.
“Energy development can occur while still protecting other resources, if the BLM requires full use of state-of-the-art practices to minimize surface disturbance,” he explained.
“When this natural gas play is finished, we have to ask what we’re going to have left to sustain our economy and what we’ll have left of the hunting and fishing heritage we love. It will be difficult to promote tourism or any other natural resource-based economy in an industrial zone,” he said.