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Jake Haefeli with his first mule deer ever. It was taken in the White River area. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Seven prominent groups unite to advocate for backcountry lands
as BLM finalizes management plan administering 1.5 million acres

WASHINGTON – Seven prominent hunting and fishing organizations are speaking out in support of the responsible management of some of the most valuable fish and wildlife habitat in the Rocky Mountain West.

Via advertisements in nine Colorado newspapers, the sportsmen’s groups are urging the Bureau of Land Management to conserve backcountry lands that comprise some of northwest Colorado’s most outstanding public lands hunting and angling. The agency currently is finalizing the White River Resource Management Plan, which will administer 1.5 million acres of federal lands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Western Native Trout Initiative are reaching out together to the BLM.

“Please respect the values of sportsmen by balancing energy development with the protection of our backcountry sporting opportunities and abundant fish and wildlife populations in the White River Resource Management Plan,” the groups state.

The areas in question encompass valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Known as the nation’s “mule deer factory,” northwest Colorado also is home to the largest migratory elk herd in North America and irreplaceable native trout fisheries.

Sporting groups in partnership with local sportsmen and businesses dependent on hunting and angling are requesting that the BLM implement a special land-management classification in an effort to conserve the unique wildlife, recreation, and economic values of the region. Called “backcountry conservation areas,” this management category would conserve specific intact and undeveloped public lands that produce robust game populations and provide high quality hunting and fishing opportunities.

The White River Resource Management Plan Amendment under consideration will guide the BLM’s management of the region’s landscape for the foreseeable future. The White River area offers world-class hunting and angling opportunities as well as abundant mineral resources. An estimated 13,000 wells will be drilled in the area in the next 20 years. Sportsmen are requesting a balanced, conservation-minded approach to this development.

Many sportsmen also support the creation of a master leasing plan in the White River area, which would guide development using a landscape-level management approach.

The sportsmen’s ads will be featured in the Rio Blanco Herald Times on Thursday and in the Denver Post and Craig, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Boulder, Loveland, Longmont and Canon City papers on Saturday.

Sportsmen speak directly to the need for responsive backcountry management in northwestern Colorado:

“Sportsmen across the state are depending on the BLM to safeguard our backcountry hunting and fishing grounds and the high quality habitat found on the Western Slope,” said Nick Payne, TRCP Colorado field representative. “To that end, the BLM should implement ‘backcountry conservation areas’ to help maintain the area’s world class public land hunting opportunities.”

“Hunting is a way of life in western Colorado, a tradition that my family has cherished for generations,” said Gabe Lucero, owner of Red Rock Archery in Grand Junction. “As an owner of an archery shop, I also depend on northwest Colorado’s quality hunting to pay the bills year after year. The BLM must ensure that sportsmen still have the opportunity for quality public land hunting indefinitely.”

“The deer, elk and pronghorn herds in northwest Colorado provide hunters a variety of hunting experiences,” said John Ellenberger, a retired wildlife biologist with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. “Some areas provide the opportunity for a backcountry hunting experience while others provide the opportunity to bag trophy-size animals. In rare instances, some areas supporting these herds provide the opportunity to do both. As both a hunter and a retired wildlife biologist for the Division of Wildlife, I am intimately familiar with these herds and their habitats. I hope the BLM recognizes what needs to be done to preserve these herds for future generations of Coloradoans.”

“Sportsmen understand the need for quality, undeveloped backcountry habitat, just as we understand the need for responsible energy development. There’s no good reason why we can’t have both,” said Tim Brass with the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

“In northwest Colorado, native cutthroat populations are under pressure, and safeguarding riparian zones and drainages from development is critical for native trout survival and restoration,” said Robin Knox, coordinator for the Western Native Trout Initiative.

“Retreating to the hunting grounds of the Western Slope’s backcountry is a cherished autumn ritual for many of us in Colorado. Conserving these areas is essential to ensuring this tradition will be enjoyed by the next generation,” said Gaspar Perricone, director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Balancing the energy needs of our state with the unique wildlife value of the region is an attainable goal, and the BLM’s resource management plan should reflect the values of each.”

“The White River Basin offers some of the finest sporting opportunities in our country so sportsmen know we need to do our part to ensure that it stays that way,” said Aaron Kindle, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project.

“This region epitomizes the image hunters and anglers conjure when dreaming of trophy big game and wild trout, and we encourage the BLM to keep the dream alive for future generations by protecting our access and opportunity,” said John Gale, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation. “Backcountry conservation areas would help safeguard both.”

Learn more about backcountry conservation areas and how they can sustain fish and wildlife habitat valued by sportsmen.

View the sportsmen’s advertisement here.

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DENVER – A sportsmen’s coalition applauds the Bureau of Land of Management’s balanced decision on the protection of many vital fish and wildlife habitats, but has concerns about the increased risk to the greater sage-grouse.

The final programmatic environmental impact statement released Friday would make about 800,000 acres available for oil shale and tar sands production in northwest Colorado, southwest Wyoming and northeastern Utah. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development supports the BLM’s move to require more research before issuing commercial leases on public land and believes it is prudent for companies with existing research parcels to show tangible results before additional land is leased.

While many important habitat areas were protected, some key greater sage-grouse habitats in Wyoming were opened to potential development, which is of concern, the coalition said. The National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnerships are the SFRED coalition’s lead partners.

“We need to understand fully the trade-offs we are making before we seal the deal to commit a thousand square miles of public land to this risky business,’’ said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife’s public lands policy director. “If we don’t, good air and water quality, fish and wildlife values could be lost forever.’’

The proposal revises a 2008 plan to open about 2 million acres of public lands in the three Rocky Mountain states to oil shale and tar sands development. The BLM took another look at the plan after challenges from several conservation groups.

“Colorado’s Piceance Basin has the region’s richest oil shale deposits and is also the heart of what’s long been called the state’s mule-deer factory,’’ said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “ The BLM has said oil shale and tar sands development might fragment or destroy wildlife habitat.’’

Northwestern Colorado was home to about 120,000 mule deer in the early 1980s, O’Neill said, but the population had dropped to about 50,000 by 2010.

“Oil and gas drilling has increased substantially in the area and more development is planned,’’ she added. “We don’t know how much more pressure the herds can bear.’’

Hunters and anglers commend the Interior Department for taking a more prudent approach to oil shale and tar sands development, said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development.

“We support responsible energy development,’’ Arnett added, “but oil shale remains an unproven source of energy and we don’t know how much water or electricity will be need to unlock the oil in the rocks.’’

The region’s public lands are crucial for hunting, fishing and recreation, all sustainable, important parts of the economy, said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project

“The region’s fish and wildlife populations are dependent on the availability of clean, cold water. Our water supplies in the West are too valuable to put at risk until the technology is better developed,” Powell said.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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“Conserving Lands and Prosperity: Seeking a Proper Balance Between Conservation and Development in the Rocky Mountain West,” a new report by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, explores the economic benefits of public lands adjacent to rural communities.

Public lands in the Rocky Mountain West are valued for the natural resources that provide fuel, building materials and other commodities and generate jobs and revenue. Yet public lands also are prized for outdoor opportunities, including hunting and angling, and are a magnet for tourists, retirees, businesses and professionals in search of a high quality of life.

Highlights from the report, prepared by Southwick Associates, include the following:

· Counties with a higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation have higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentages of lands managed for commodity production.
· From 1969 to 2009, counties with the highest percentages of lands managed for conservation had higher per-capita income growth rates compared to counties with higher percentages of lands managed for resource development.
· In 2009, the average per-capita income in counties where public lands were managed for conservation and recreation was about $38,000. It was approximately $30,000 in counties where public lands were intensively managed for natural resource extraction.

A case study in the report focuses on Cody, Wyo., a community surrounded by public lands that owes about 10 percent of its jobs to direct spending on fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing.

Join sportsman-conservationist leaders, business owners and Southwick Associates to discuss the report’s findings, including development that conserves the Rocky Mountain West’s renewable resources and secures the region’s economic future.

Speakers to include:
– Brad Powell, energy director, Trout Unlimited
– Rob Southwick, president, Southwick Associates
– Tim Wade, owner, North Fork Anglers, Cody, Wyo., and former Cody County commissioner
– Mike Darby, owner, Irma Hotel, Cody, Wyo., and president, Cody Chamber of Commerce
– Jim Lyon, vice president of conservation policy, National Wildlife Federation

Moderator: Katie McKalip, director of media relations, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

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BLM’s failure to implement master leasing plans in prime fish and wildlife habitat represents a flawed approach to public lands energy development, say sportsmen

DENVER – The Bureau of Land Management has considered the list of Colorado candidates for leasing reforms that take a landscape-scale look at conservation of public lands, and the result is no good news for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said Thursday that the BLM’s decision not to approve a master leasing plan for South Park, a premier fish and wildlife haven in central Colorado, is the latest case of the agency’s failure to follow through on the promised reforms a year after identifying sites that merit MLPs. None has been approved in Colorado and little progress has been made in other Western states.

South Park, prized by sportsmen for its world-class fisheries and pronghorn, mule deer and elk herds, is a prime candidate for an MLP, which would identify important conservation values and potential cumulative impacts early in the energy development process, SFRED said.

The sportsmen’s coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

“Despite the economic slump, oil and gas development continues to grow in Colorado. Yet the BLM is not utilizing one of its best management tools to secure certainty for industry by focusing on long-term, comprehensive planning that also protects fish, wildlife, habitat and water quality,” said John Gale, NWF’s regional representative. “The BLM has failed to keep an important part of its promise to balance our energy needs with the hunting, fishing and recreation on public lands that boost rural economies and sustain our Western heritage.”

The BLM describes a master leasing plan as a way “to restore needed balance to the development process by improving protections for land, water and wildlife” and to address potential conflicts.

An MLP would provide a crucial step between the more general, overarching resource management plan and approvals for specific leases and drilling permits, when there’s limited opportunity for analysis of the potential, cumulative impacts, said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, which formally proposed South Park for an MLP.

“The BLM’s rejection on Tuesday of an MLP for South Park is an opportunity lost,” O’Neill added. “The BLM’s explanation was that it would be jumping the gun because South Park hasn’t seen that much oil and gas activity. But that’s precisely the right time to act, before the great tracts of unfragmented habitat are carved up and the South Platte and its tributaries are threatened.”

About 450 people and businesses, many of them from the South Park area, signed a petition asking the BLM to approve an MLP to conserve one of the “last wild places” while allowing energy development.

In Colorado’s North Park, a site proposed by the BLM itself for a master leasing plan, agency officials deemed the proposal too late because the area already is “substantially leased.”

“So, it would appear that we are too late for North Park and too early for South Park,” SFRED wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to BLM Director Bob Abbey.

The lack of final guidance for the development of MLPs has created confusion within the agency and among the public about where and when the plans should be used, according to SFRED.

North Park contains the headwaters of the North Platte River and is home to moose, elk, bear, pronghorn, mule deer and the greater sage-grouse, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Both North Park and South Park already have oil and gas wells and sit atop the oil-rich Niobrara formation, seen as possibly the nation’s next big play.

“If not North Park and South Park, where are they going to do MLPs?” asked Trout Unlimited’s Bob Meulengracht, who lives in Colorado. “The BLM is in the process of writing new resource management plans, yet they’re pooh-poohing the idea of master leasing plans.’’

Meulengracht challenged the BLM’s reasoning that at roughly 50 percent, too much of North Park is already leased to preclude preparation of an MLP.

“What makes 50 percent substantial?” Meulengracht asked. “North Park has been called the Serengeti of Colorado, and that characterization is absolutely appropriate. It has some of the best hunting and fishing around. It’s a special place, one worth conserving.”

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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Sportsmen underscore need for transparency, balanced natural resources management
on public lands as new energy regulations are weighed

DENVER – The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules on public disclosure of the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, as well as the handling of wastewater and the integrity of well casings, represent a step forward in ensuring responsible energy development on public lands, a sportsmen’s coalition said Monday.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development has called on the BLM to make sure resources such as water, fish and wildlife are conserved when oil and gas are developed on public lands. The draft rule on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a prudent response to concerns about the potential impacts of drilling and the handling of drilling fluids on the lands that are crucial to the West’s water supplies, fish and wildlife, said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. TU is a member of the SFRED coalition.

The proposed federal rule would require public disclosure of the chemicals in fracking fluids before and during drilling. Companies stating that the fracking mixtures are proprietary would have to explain why the information should be kept from the public.

The proposal also addresses testing to ensure the integrity of well casings, pipes placed down a borehole and held in place by cement to keep the oil and gas from mingling with anything else.
The document includes rules for safely storing and disposing of waste from recovered fluids.

Some states, including Wyoming and Colorado, have approved regulations requiring disclosure of fracking fluids’ contents as increased drilling has raised concerns about the chemicals used.

“Complete and timely public disclosure is an important step toward ensuring that public health, water quality, fish and wildlife are protected from contamination by hydraulic fracturing,” said Michael Saul, attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, also an SFRED member. “BLM is moving in the right direction by mandating disclosure of all chemicals and by codifying the prohibition on unlined storage pits.”

“Sportsmen are pleased that our federal decision makers recognize the need to increase transparency during all phases of energy planning and development,” said Tom Franklin, senior director of science and policy for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, an SFRED member. “We will continue to work closely with the administration, Congress, industry and our conservation partners to assure that public lands energy projects employ a science-based approach that sustains our nation’s fish and wildlife resources and outdoors opportunities.”

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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