Protections made official for Colorado's Vermillion Basin

After a decade long struggle, The Wilderness Society and partners are pleased to announce new protections from oil and gas drilling for Northwest Colorado’s magnificent Vermillion Basin.

A total of 77,000 acres of Vermillion Basin will be protected as part of the area’s new resource management plan, released by the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake field office on Aug. 13.

This newly protected area contains some of the highest quality wildlands that Colorado has to offer. Vermillion Basin is known for unique geological formations, vibrant badlands and indispensible sage-brush ecosystems.

“Vermillion Basin embodies those things that define the American West—wide open space, tranquility, and immense beauty,” said Soren Jespersen, The Wilderness Society’s Northwest Colorado Wildlands Coordinator. Soren has been working with a diverse group of local citizens who have long supported protection for this exceptional landscape.

The region also hosts a wide range of rare plant species, big game species illustrative of Colorado’s famous backcountry hunting experience, and a vast collection of major prehistoric and cultural relics.

The importance of leaving Vermillion Basin unharmed by oil and gas development is reflected by this revised Resource Management Plan and is the result of the collaboration of numerous conservation groups, local citizens, the BLM, and current state leaders.

Though we are pleased with the final decision to protect Vermillion Basin, the plan still leaves much room for improvement in the rest of the region managed by the Little Snake field office.

The greater area managed by this office includes lands outside Vermillion basin, which provide some of the highest quality wildlife habitat and wildands in Colorado. These lands include seven units from the statewide Colorado’s Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal and more than 270,000 acres of citizen proposed wilderness.

“Protecting Vermillion Basin from oil and gas drilling is an important step towards restoring balance to the way our public lands are managed in northwest Colorado, but the plan still leaves important places—proposed wilderness areas like Cold Spring Mountain and Little Yampa Canyon---open to potentially devastating activities like energy development and motorized use. Many of our treasured wilderness-quality lands are still lacking needed protections,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel and BLM Action Center Director for the Wilderness Society.

“The BLM has recognized the wilderness qualities of these lands and therefore should manage them in a way that actively protects there distinct wilderness value,” Culver added.

Also included in the Little Snake region are the most important populations of greater sage-grouse in Colorado, which are vital for the species region-wide as well. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added this once abundant bird to the Endangered Species Candidate List, which illuminates a potentially calamitous fate for this Western icon and stresses the magnitude of needed protection. The latest research has irrefutably shown that sage-grouse are highly sensitive to surface disturbing activities such as oil and gas development, which indicates that additional protective measures should be implemented.

This imperiled bird shares the sagebrush ecosystem with dozens of other key wildlife species, such as some of the largest elk and mule deer herds in North America. This area provides some of the most significant big game habitat in the West and contributes to the legendary backcountry hunting experience the area is known for. While the BLM’s plan takes a good first step in ensuring that these remaining sage-grouse populations are protected, it does not go far enough in ensuring that they will be brought back from the brink of collapse.

The proposed management plan released by the BLM yesterday makes a sizeable step in restoring balance to our public lands by protecting Vermillion Basin. The Wilderness Society will continue to work with our partners and supporters to make certain that we continue to fight for the permanent protection of these extraordinary landscapes.