Time for a real plan to protect Colorado

Willow Creek Wilderness Study Area

by Soren Jespersen

More than 1.5 million acres of rolling mountains, elk herds, and wild horses are managed by the Bureau of Land Management in northwestern Colorado. These lands are managed by the BLM’s White River Field Office.

In late 2012, the BLM released a draft amendment to the existing management plan that would dramatically increase the scope and intensity of oil and gas development in the region. This plan included an alternative allowing more than 21,000 new oil and gas wells—an increase of over 350% over current levels.  This increase in development was proposed without any significant mitigation measures—such as protecting new areas of wilderness quality lands or wildlife habitat that would balance such an increase in development.

This area was once known as the “mule deer factory of Colorado” because of the large migratory mule deer herds.  At one point, this was the largest herd in America. However, because of loss of habitat and other factors, these herds have declined by more than 60% in the last 30 years.  By the BLM’s own estimation, their preferred alternative would reduce these herds even more, including the loss of an additional 25% of the mule deer winter range in the region.

Responsible oil and gas development can coexist with healthy wildlife habitats and wilderness quality lands.  The Wilderness Society has proposed an alternative for the White River field office that would balance an increase in oil and gas development with protections for wilderness and wildlife habitat.  Our plan would allow up to 5,000 new wells in the region, but would balance this significant increase in development with concrete protections for the elk, mule deer, and greater sage-grouse in the region. In addition, our plan would protect the remaining wilderness quality lands from development. 

The Wilderness Society’s scientific-based approach shows that oil and gas development in the White River area is not an either/or proposition.  Increased oil and gas development does not have to come at the cost of the area’s famous wildlife habitat and wilderness-quality lands.  With smart planning and a cautious approach, we can ensure that this region remains Colorado’s “mule deer factory” for years to come.