By Hal Herring
I’ve flown this part of Colorado before, but the country here always boggles my mind. Bruce Gordon, the nomadic pilot of EcoFlight, banked the little single prop plane into a wide turn over the Roan Plateau, the breathtaking Roan Cliffs falling away to the muddy Colorado River and the old town of Rifle. The big plateau of the Roan itself, where I've been lucky enough to walk the giant aspen groves and fish the little shaded creeks for cutthroats, fell away below us, a public lands country of hidden waters, bugling bull elk and big muley bucks. And natural gas. Every year more roads are built along the ridges of the plateau, more big well pads appear, more pipelines, and more crew- and service-trucks are on the roads. There is an 80,000 acre “exclusion area” that can be seen from the plane, the only expanse left of the Roan that looks even remotely like it used to, and that is slated for development too. But this is not a blog about the Roan Plateau, or even energy development. It is a blog that asks a single question that I honestly hope that some reader will be bold and thoughtful enough to answer. What do you really believe in?
Let me explain. Several years ago, I reported for Field & Stream and other publications on energy leasing and the conflicts that the massive scale of energy extraction would have on big game herds across the West. Well, that conflict has been upon us for years now. Recent reports from the drilling area around Pinedale, Wyoming (Upper Green River) show the once grand mule deer herd is down, not just by the 46 percent reported last year, but by 60 percent. As former U.S. Bureau of Land Management biologist Steve Belinda, who now works on energy issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and others, said recently, “I try to imagine if we had presented the energy development plans for that area in, say, 2003, and just said, ‘here’s how we are going to do it, and we’ll be giving up at least 60 percent of the big game resource here to accomplish it.’