A new settlement could protect some of Colorado’s most biologically rich public lands

Mule deer on the Roan Plateau.

John Gale.

The towering Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado may finally be protected from oil and gas drilling.

A recent legal agreement should settle a long battle over whether or not to allow drilling on the highest lands of the plateau.

The late-October legal agreement between the BLM and a number of conservation, hunting and angling groups, including The Wilderness Society, will cancel existing oil and gas leases atop the Roan Plateau. This agreement is only the first step of the planning process, however. Now that the oil and gas leases will be cancelled, the BLM will need to be held accountable to adopt the new agreement into their future planning process to guide development away from sensitive biological lands.

More than 50,000 acres of the Roan Plateau, home to big game herds of elk and mule deer as well as cutthroat trout and some of the rarest plants in the US, could be off limits to oil and gas development if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopts a new plan to protect these wildlands.

Photo by Scott Braden, Conservation Colorado.

While this area has long been prized by wildlife and wildlands enthusiasts, in 2008 The Wilderness Society joined others to block a plan by the BLM to open large areas of the plateau to oil and gas drilling. Drilling would have scarred the plateau for generations. In 2012, a federal court in Denver ruled in our favor forcing the BLM to revise its plan, but leases had already been sold to a number of companies. This led to years of litigation and indecision for the lands on and around the plateau.

That battle over drilling has been won for now, though efforts to protect the Roan Plateau will be ongoing. The settlement of the lawsuit could lead to the creation of a responsible management plan for the future and will provide the Roan Plateau an opportunity to serve both our nation’s energy needs while also protecting lands that people and wildlife depend on.

Photo by Scott Braden, Conservation Colorado.

Ecologically rich Roan Plateau

The BLM has said itself that the Roan Plateau “is clearly of comparable biological significance” to several national parks and monuments; and the BLM and local citizens have identified thousands of acres of wilderness-quality lands. Backcountry hunting and fishing, combined with other outdoor recreation activities, aid the roughly $9.3 billion outdoor industry in Northwest Colorado.

Varied vegetation stretches across the 4,000 foot climb in elevation from 5,000 to 9,000 feet.

Photo by John Gale.

Mountain meadows, juniper woodlands, sagebrush, aspen stands, gambel oak and Douglas fir line the hills. Deer and elk travel to the top during the summer and head for the base for forage in the winter. The lands on top of the plateau are bisected by four streams that contain important populations of rare, native Colorado River cutthroat trout- a species that occupies less than 10 percent of its historic range.

This makes public lands in the region a critical component of local communities and their economies. Support for this settlement has been wide-ranging, from the entire congressional delegation, to the Governor’s office, to West Slope counties, along with conservation groups and the affected oil and gas companies.

Join us in thanking lawmakers for protecting Roan Plateau! 

Roan Plateau fact sheet (PDF)

Photo by David Nickum.

Photo by David Nickum.

Photo by Scott Braden, Conservation Colorado.

Timeline: The Roan Plateau (Click for Larger Version)