CWF and NWF Blast BLM Plan for CO White River

January 29, 2013

 On Monday, January 28, CWF and NWF filed comments on the Bureau of Land Management's draft plan for the White River area of Colorado's West Slope that would allow up to 15,000 new wells. BLM is using obsolete data, and is failing to use up-to-date scientific information - and should be scrapped.

On January 29, CWF and NWF issued this press release:


The Bureau of Land Management's draft plan that would allow up to 15,000 new wells in what has been called Colorado's ``mule-deer factory'' uses obsolete data, fails to use up-to-date scientific information - and should be scrapped, wildlife groups said Tuesday.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation urged the Colorado BLM to redo the White River oil and gas resource management plan covering nearly 2 million acres of public land in the Piceance Basin, including some of the region's most important fish and wildlife habitat. The area, already the site of at least 2,000 active wells, has experienced serious declines in what is North America's largest migratory mule deer herd, the two groups said in formal comments on the proposal.

Yet, the BLM's plan uses seriously outdated information on mule deer numbers, putting the population at 106,000 while state wildlife scientists estimated the herd at 43,700 after the 2011 hunting season, said Michael Saul, NWF attorney.

The current herd is likely already smaller than the level deemed acceptable in the BLM's preferred development option - about 47,250 deer, or 70 percent of the state's objective population of 67,500 deer.

``It's not an overstatement to say that, from a wildlife perspective, this is the worst BLM plan I've ever seen,'' Saul added.

Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, criticized the BLM for choosing to used outdated deer numbers when research by wildlife scientists continues to show ``a steady and alarming decline'' in numbers.

"This herd will continue to deteriorate unless the BLM protects essential winter range,'' O'Neill said. ``We call on the BLM to work with the state's wildlife agency to use accurate numbers and the best science to ensure our wildlife heritage and its important fishing and hunting economic contribution can be sustained."

The region is also home to the greater sage-grouse, under consideration for addition to the Endangered Species List, some of the country's largest elk herds, lynx and Colorado River cutthroat trout. The BLM's plan could allow at least four to six times more disturbance in important wildlife habitat than is allowed under other oil and gas plans in the region.

``The BLM's plan to allow up to 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin could be nothing short of a death sentence for one of the country's largest mule deer herds and the greater sage-grouse, a species already teetering on the brink of no return,'' said Kate Zimmerman, NWF's public lands policy director.

John Ellenberger, the state's former big game manager, said the BLM plan is full of holes and doesn't address some basic issues, including how baseline data on wildlife will be gathered. He called the management approach that could result in high levels of disturbance in key wildlife habitat ``unprecedented.''

The White River mule deer herd has plummeted to an estimated 43,700 from more than 120,000 in the early 1980s. Ellenberger said the reasons are varied: loss of habitat; drought; the spread of noxious weeds that deer can't eat; disease. He said he fears that what could be a 750 percent increase in oil and gas drilling with the accompanying roads and pipelines will prevent the herd from ever recovering.

``If something like this goes through as planned, the deer are going to exist at much lower densities than in the past,'' Ellenberger added. ``The other thing is how do hunters react to it? Hunters don't want to hunt in an industrial zone, with pump jacks, derricks, roads and other fixtures. They're not going to drive from Pennsylvania, California or Missouri to hunt mule deer in the West and have that kind of experience.''



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