CO Wildlife Resources Risk Loss Unless Rules Are Enacted

August 1, 2008

Colorado Wildlife Federation and five other wildlife groups are asking the oil and gas commission to approve new rules to protects the habitat that sustains the state's deer, trout, sage grouse and other native species during the unprecedented energy boom now threatening crucial wild landscape.


                                                                                    August 1, 2008
Six Colorado wildlife groups are asking state officials to approve new rules to protect the habitat that sustains the state’s deer, trout, sage grouse and other native species during the unprecedented energy boom now threatening crucial wild landscapes.
“Colorado’s world-class wildlife resource will be lost unless oil and gas companies are required to factor in the needs of wildlife before drilling begins, not as an afterthought,” said Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
“We understand the need to tap oil and gas resources, but development must proceed in a manner that respects the wildlife heritage that defines our state and is the basis for an important economic segment that will continue to grow.”
The wildlife groups filed formal comments with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Wednesday. The Commission is developing new rules to protect habitat as required by the Habitat Stewardship Act unanimously approved by the Colorado Legislature last year.
The six groups include the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Mule Deer Association, Colorado Bowhunters Association, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Audubon Colorado and the regional office of the National Wildlife Federation. The groups submitted their formal comments as part of the rule-making process that the Oil and Gas Commission is now conducting as required by the Habitat Stewardship Act.
The action by the groups follows a formal resolution earlier this month from the Colorado Wildlife Commission that also supported the ongoing regulation process to protect fish and wildlife habitat. Under the provisions of the Habitat Stewardship Act, the Oil and Gas Commission is required to formally consult with the Wildlife Commission as it develops new regulations to protect wildlife habitat.
“We strongly urge the Oil and Gas Commission, the Department of Natural Resources and Gov. Bill Ritter to put in place regulations that will allow our kids and grandkids to enjoy a wildlife resource as good or better than what we enjoy today,” said Ivan James, vice-president of the Colorado Bowhunters Association. “We are not against energy development, we simply want these giant corporations to understand just how important our hunting and fishing traditions are to those of us in the Rocky Mountain West.”
The six groups placed special attention on the Piceance Basin, a broad, rugged landscape northwest of Rifle that is one of the state’s most important big-game winter ranges and holds some of the nation’s most abundant supplies of natural gas.
“Those of us who have managed the state’s wildlife herds understand just how important the Piceance is to Western Colorado’s big-game herds and sage grouse,” said Steve Torbit, a former wildlife researcher with Colorado State University and now regional executive director with the National Wildlife Federation.
“The Piceance is critical to the future health of North America’s largest mule deer herd,” Torbit explained. “We are losing both sides of the mountain, for not only is the Piceance winter range becoming an industrial zone but the unbridled development of the Roan Plateau will threaten the summer range used by many of the same mule deer. If we lose the Piceance, we lose seasonally vital deer habitat and the hunting opportunities and resulting sustainable economy that the Piceance provides.”
And drilling companies, flush with record profits, have both the cash and the technical know how to dramatically reduce impacts on wildlife and other natural resources.
“Existing technology allows companies to drill 32 wells from one pad,” said Bob Elderkin, a former Bureau of Land Management official who regulated the oil and gas industry. “With two nearby pads, this can be increased to 64 wells per square mile and only one access road and one pipeline right of way.
“With the money they’re making on every well they drill, the companies can easily afford to use this technology and could actually save money through reduced infrastructure costs.”
The groups also specifically urged the Oil and Gas Commission to restore an original proposal to restrict drilling within 300 feet of lakes and streams, a request also made the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
“Drilling should not be allowed close to aquatic habitat because of the damage a spill could cause to fish, other aquatic species and public drinking water supplies,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “With directional drilling technology, companies can easily reach more than 300 feet, protecting species as well as the riparian areas so vital to the vast majority of wildlife.”
The groups also urged the Oil and Gas Commission to protect core habitat for greater sage grouse as defined in the state’s formal plan to protect the native upland game bird. Sage grouse occupy only a small fraction of their former range and have been considered as a candidate species for the federal Endangered Species Act.
“It’s in the best interest of the state and energy companies to require regulations to protect sage grouse habitat,” said Gary Graham, executive director of Colorado Audubon. “Actions we take today can reduce the likelihood of losing an important piece of our natural heritage and having grouse listed as a federally endangered species.”
The Oil and Gas Commission will consider the wildlife groups’ recommendations as part of its deliberative process beginning the week of August 11.
Contact: Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation, (303) 919-3949
                Steve Torbit, National Wildlife Federation, (303) 619-4122
               Ivan James, Colorado Bowhunters Association, (303) 324-6526
                Bob Elderkin, Colorado Mule Deer Association, (970) 948-9081
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