Please Sign In

Please enter a valid username and password
  • Log in with Facebook
» Not a member? Take a moment to register
» Forgot Username or Password

Why Register?
Signing up could earn you gear (click here to learn how)! It also keeps offensive content off our site.

A Bold Plan to Save America's Backcountry

Recent Comments

Categories

Recent Posts

Archives

Syndicate

Google Reader or Homepage
Add to My Yahoo!
Add to My AOL

The Conservationist
in your Inbox

Enter your email address to get our new post everyday.

December 18, 2012

A Bold Plan to Save America's Backcountry

By Hal Herring

The wild red and yellow-rock canyon of the Yampa River appears beneath the little plane, the river shadowed and darkest green, the sandbars at the bends a deep maroon. North of the river is Dinosaur National Monument, and west the smoke and steam plumes of the Bonanza coal-fired power plant at Vernal, Utah. As we bank south towards the White River, we fly over a wild corrugated country of pinon and juniper, bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, and high plateaus of sagebrush and grass. The steep coulees are blanketed by aspen groves, leafless and stark in December against the bare earth. The Red Cliffs loom, Moosehead Mountain towers. This is Colorado’s Unit 10. It looks like spectacular elk country, and it is. The region is home to some of the biggest trophy bull elk in North America.
 
“That’s the habitat, right there,” says John Ellenberger. “You need multiple preference points to draw a tag for Unit 10, but people who have that opportunity will tell you it’s worth the effort and the wait.” Ellenberger knows what he’s talking about. Recently retired, he’s been the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife biologist on this ground since 1976, and has walked almost every foot of it. Now he’s working as an independent, helping the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership find a way to keep healthy some of the game herds and the landscape they depend upon, as an onslaught of new uses moves in. Energy development, writ large, is already here and booming. Natural gas, oil shale, tar sands—all are slated for development. 
 
There has been no snowfall at all this year, and the country is parched. We are over the vast public lands of the White River Ranger District, the winter range for the world’s largest remaining mule deer herd--more than 35,000 deer roaming a landscape beloved by generations of big-buck hunters. The mule deer share this high country winter range with America’s largest migratory elk herd, 30,000 or more strong. A map of the migration patterns of elk and deer here looks like a map of wind currents, flowing into the high mesa country (including the spectacular Flat Tops Wilderness, nearly 13,000 feet in elevation) all around and back again. Summer range, winter range--big game does not survive if you remove either one from the equation.
 
This is not a landscape that has been spared the attentions of mankind. There are old roads, and lots of livestock grazing. Over the past ten years, 1800 gas wells have been developed here, with a matrix of new roads and well pads and pipelines. Over the next 20 years, there will be about 18,000 more wells here, with the industrial and pipeline infrastructure to support them. Here, too, buried in the earth, is the Mahogany shale, which holds millions of barrels of oil, though no one has ever figured out an economical way to harvest it. Right now, there are two experimental projects working to try to unlock the secret.
 
In a way, this huge, game-rich, mid-elevation, Rocky Mountain hunting ground is a microcosm of our planet, and of our nation. And just as we have solved some of the greatest American conservation challenges in the past 100 years, hunters and fishermen are building a new model for keeping our game herds, our access, our lands and waters, in the face of a burgeoning population and its ravenous consumption of natural resources.
 
The model is called Backcountry Conservation Areas, and it involves identifying critical core areas of habitat and watershed protection, and making sure that the impacts of energy or any other development are limited there. “This is a model that sportsmen in Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado have created to make sure that we can keep our opportunities at least as good as they are now,” said Joel Webster of the TRCP. “What we and a lot of other sportsmen’s groups are working on is a ground-up plan to safeguard our finest public hunting and fishing lands. What it boils down to is that we know that these developments- from natural gas drilling to wind and solar projects- are going through on a huge scale. If we do this right, we can safeguard an entire way of life, a Western way of life in the outdoors that we have enjoyed, and have a responsibility to pass on to our kids and grandkids.”
 
Webster wants to make clear that the Backcountry Conservation Area idea is to try and keep opportunities as they exist now, even as development will inevitably change the landscape. “Under one development plan for the White River country, the mule deer herd will decline by at least a third,” Webster explains. “There’s a lot of development, lots of infrastructure, lots of traffic. We need to have these core habitat areas protected. There will be losses, but we can keep them to a minimum.”
 
So far, public lands managers like those at the Bureau of Land Management have been hamstrung in their attempts to balance energy and other developments with big game and fisheries resources on public lands. “There are administrative tools to try and protect habitat, such as designating ‘Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,’ but they are complicated, and they have not been applied consistently,” said Webster. “All of those tools are seen as top-down mandates from Washington, not representing the reality on the ground. One, they are hard to understand and hard to put into action. Two, the public, including the hunters and fishermen who are most impacted here, don’t see how they work.”
 
The BCA model comes from local knowledge. “The BCAs will keep access open for sportsmen; allow for restoration of habitats; maintain, in these core areas, all of what we have now, identified by local, boots-on-the ground sportsmen and land managers who know what is at stake.” Webster points out that with more than 40 million acres of public lands leased for oil and gas development, and millions more on the table for solar and wind, it’s past time for sportsmen to get involved with public lands managers.

Photo courtesy of EcoFlight

Comments (16)

Top Rated
All Comments
from FirstBubba wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Do I see an indication that maybe "wind and solar" aren't the "environmental" champs they claim?
Don't know about everybody else, but them "windmill forests" ain't all that enchanting!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Bubba, No they are not. They are trying to do a huge wind project here in Ohio that is being fought tooth and nail by the locals. I believe it encompasses several counties two of which I know for sure Logan & Clark. Few people want them. As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy, Hals talking of the vast stretches of land that will be developed for fossil fuels. Can you imagine a solar farm and the vast stretches of land that would have to be completely void of all vegitation? At this point the only clean energy is horsepower and that is literal. There is no green energy as is there no clean energy. The best choice we have is conservation of our energy and the production of energy with the least impact and nothing thrown at the wall to date has worked so lets keep on looking for alternatives.

Hal, I would support this idea and cause.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Bubba, No they are not. They are trying to do a huge wind project here in Ohio that is being fought tooth and nail by the locals. I believe it encompasses several counties two of which I know for sure Logan & Clark. Few people want them. As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy, Hals talking of the vast stretches of land that will be developed for fossil fuels. Can you imagine a solar farm and the vast stretches of land that would have to be completely void of all vegitation? At this point the only clean energy is horsepower and that is literal. There is no green energy as is there no clean energy. The best choice we have is conservation of our energy and the production of energy with the least impact and nothing thrown at the wall to date has worked so lets keep on looking for alternatives.

Hal, I would support this idea and cause.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jryoung wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

"As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy"

Large scale solar is, small and medium scale (residential rooftops, big box stores, parking lot carports) are a fantastic use of already used space. No need for public land, no extensive permits or EIS.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Backcountry wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Great piece, Hal. Thanks for bringing attention to important issues affecting public land hunters in the West. 18,000 more wells is hard to comprehend - especially in the middle of the best deer and elk habitat in Colorado...

We need to protect special places for the future of our sport.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bennett Brown wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Very good piece about an effort that is sorekly needed to preserve some of our very best wild game and their habitats in the face of the onslaught of western energy development. They are going after our very best habitats just about everywhere in the west. Hal, as usual, lays it all out for all of us to see. We need to pay attention to the RMP plan revisions and make sure that our wildlife and the lands upon which they depend don't get short shrift!

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Erik Jensen wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Thanks for covering this, Hal. It looks like a good effort by Joel Webster, John Ellenberger, and others at TRCP.

For the folks that have gripes about how solar is being deployed or others aspects, I think we have to keep in mind this all about how many people are involved in the conservation movement. The more grassroots supporters we have, the better conservation plans we will get ! If you've been active, recruit someone new, and if you're not active, get involved.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from hhack wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

I have 18 points for elk in this area, and 12 points for deer right now. There are already a lot of oil and gas wells in this area and there largest impact to the game that I have seen is the increased amount of traffic. Water is also a sparse commodity in the area any energy development that would affect this would doom this herd. One thing that needs to happen is the installation of more wildlife bridges on the major highway in this area Highway 40. The highway runs right through the middle of the migration route.

+6 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Right you are, Hal, and JRyoung. Here in Pima Co, 34MW of solar power were just installed on overgrazed eroding desert scrubland. The solar panels will generate cheap electricity for decades, fewer people will contract lung ailments from coal particulates, and grass will recover along much of the ground between the rows of solar panels, providing for less dust during windstorm, and more forage for wildlife.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jryoung wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Mike, I don't disagree. There are great options for large scale solar, but those plans must be approached with caution as there are many other factors at play (habitat being paramount). The benefit of small scale is easy permitting and using already consumed space, it is very efficient. The benefit of large scale is cost per watt drops dramatically, but permitting is harder, the need for EIS, and putting habitat at risk.

As long as low value habitat, low value agricultural land and similar types of land are used for projects above 25MW I'm happy as it is a win/win. My fear though is that some prime habitat will be put at risk.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dbenear1985 wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Wind farms are a terrible eyesore. I have one big enough to power 30,000 homes not 20 miles from my house with more going up every day. I hate to look at them, my electricity bill has not gone down it has gone up. I found out the the power generated is going to California and Wyoming. This is rediculous. I have to look at these things i should get some benefit out of them. If California and Wyoming want power put wind towers up in your own state not mine. Im not against wind energy although i am not sure its that much better than any other method. I just wonder why we are shipping this power out instead of helping out the local communities.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

You can't just assume that when a wind turbine goes up that your energy bills will magically lower. You can go into any community with fracking rigs and wells and it won't be much different- they're not seeing free gas or a lower gas bill as a result. The gas is probably destined for some country half way around the globe.

I'm sure there are some community wind energy models that fit what you had in mind.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bucks CO wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Every year I get out hunting on public lands in Colorado I'm amazed by how development effects the landscape. I've been skeptical about things like this in the past, but it seems like the "BCA" idea could actually work, and is needed given what I've witnessed over the years.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from aferraro wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

With current technology it takes massive amounts of space to generate solar power @ 10 football field worth of solar panels to equal a portable generator's output. This isn't ecological, sensible, or desirable. I’ve examined dozens of alternative energy companies. Solar and (to a lesser extent) wind farms only survive with large subsidies, not by producing cost effective energy. Natural gas is very cheap in North America and is projected to say that way for at least 10 years. We burn (waste) about the same amount of natural gas as we recover, because we lack pipelines and infrastructure to store gas from many oil drilling projects. That should be changed. We could also do basic scientism research to make better solar panels BEFORE we put them in production- but then politicians wouldn't get to pay off their donors with our tax money.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Lets be fair here. Coal, oil and gas companies give millions to politicians and get a hefty return. They get our tax dollars, we let them off the hook for environmental costs and their buddies in D.C. fight renewables at every chance they get. Politicians do everything they can to promote and protect the fossil fuel industries. We gave one solar company a chunk of money and they flopped. It's about time people get over it. It surely doesn't speak for the entire industry as a whole; one that is growing very very rapidly.

Interesting read over at Forbes, "Saudi Arabia Makes Big Bet on Solar."

They'd like 1/3 of their energy to come from solar. 41,000 megawatts by 2030 through a 109 billion dollar investment. Just all the more oil for them to sell to us... and I don't even want to know what the price of oil will look like at that point.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

This year I scouted unit 12 which also has some of the Flattops Wilderness. I try to scout one new unit each year just to get to know more country all the time. I really can't say I've seen much in the way of bad units once you get on the other side of the front range. The back side of the Uncompahgre plateau isn't too shabby.

When scouting I found an overlook on the flattops where I had a good view six miles up and down the valley below. Threw my bivi sack down right there and glassed till dark. Lotta commercial outfitters, it was muzzle loader season. The selling of hunting hasn't done it a ton of good.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from hhack wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

I have 18 points for elk in this area, and 12 points for deer right now. There are already a lot of oil and gas wells in this area and there largest impact to the game that I have seen is the increased amount of traffic. Water is also a sparse commodity in the area any energy development that would affect this would doom this herd. One thing that needs to happen is the installation of more wildlife bridges on the major highway in this area Highway 40. The highway runs right through the middle of the migration route.

+6 Good Comment? | | Report
from jryoung wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

"As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy"

Large scale solar is, small and medium scale (residential rooftops, big box stores, parking lot carports) are a fantastic use of already used space. No need for public land, no extensive permits or EIS.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bennett Brown wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Very good piece about an effort that is sorekly needed to preserve some of our very best wild game and their habitats in the face of the onslaught of western energy development. They are going after our very best habitats just about everywhere in the west. Hal, as usual, lays it all out for all of us to see. We need to pay attention to the RMP plan revisions and make sure that our wildlife and the lands upon which they depend don't get short shrift!

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Backcountry wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Great piece, Hal. Thanks for bringing attention to important issues affecting public land hunters in the West. 18,000 more wells is hard to comprehend - especially in the middle of the best deer and elk habitat in Colorado...

We need to protect special places for the future of our sport.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Erik Jensen wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Thanks for covering this, Hal. It looks like a good effort by Joel Webster, John Ellenberger, and others at TRCP.

For the folks that have gripes about how solar is being deployed or others aspects, I think we have to keep in mind this all about how many people are involved in the conservation movement. The more grassroots supporters we have, the better conservation plans we will get ! If you've been active, recruit someone new, and if you're not active, get involved.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Lets be fair here. Coal, oil and gas companies give millions to politicians and get a hefty return. They get our tax dollars, we let them off the hook for environmental costs and their buddies in D.C. fight renewables at every chance they get. Politicians do everything they can to promote and protect the fossil fuel industries. We gave one solar company a chunk of money and they flopped. It's about time people get over it. It surely doesn't speak for the entire industry as a whole; one that is growing very very rapidly.

Interesting read over at Forbes, "Saudi Arabia Makes Big Bet on Solar."

They'd like 1/3 of their energy to come from solar. 41,000 megawatts by 2030 through a 109 billion dollar investment. Just all the more oil for them to sell to us... and I don't even want to know what the price of oil will look like at that point.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

You can't just assume that when a wind turbine goes up that your energy bills will magically lower. You can go into any community with fracking rigs and wells and it won't be much different- they're not seeing free gas or a lower gas bill as a result. The gas is probably destined for some country half way around the globe.

I'm sure there are some community wind energy models that fit what you had in mind.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

This year I scouted unit 12 which also has some of the Flattops Wilderness. I try to scout one new unit each year just to get to know more country all the time. I really can't say I've seen much in the way of bad units once you get on the other side of the front range. The back side of the Uncompahgre plateau isn't too shabby.

When scouting I found an overlook on the flattops where I had a good view six miles up and down the valley below. Threw my bivi sack down right there and glassed till dark. Lotta commercial outfitters, it was muzzle loader season. The selling of hunting hasn't done it a ton of good.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Right you are, Hal, and JRyoung. Here in Pima Co, 34MW of solar power were just installed on overgrazed eroding desert scrubland. The solar panels will generate cheap electricity for decades, fewer people will contract lung ailments from coal particulates, and grass will recover along much of the ground between the rows of solar panels, providing for less dust during windstorm, and more forage for wildlife.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jryoung wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Mike, I don't disagree. There are great options for large scale solar, but those plans must be approached with caution as there are many other factors at play (habitat being paramount). The benefit of small scale is easy permitting and using already consumed space, it is very efficient. The benefit of large scale is cost per watt drops dramatically, but permitting is harder, the need for EIS, and putting habitat at risk.

As long as low value habitat, low value agricultural land and similar types of land are used for projects above 25MW I'm happy as it is a win/win. My fear though is that some prime habitat will be put at risk.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bucks CO wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Every year I get out hunting on public lands in Colorado I'm amazed by how development effects the landscape. I've been skeptical about things like this in the past, but it seems like the "BCA" idea could actually work, and is needed given what I've witnessed over the years.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Bubba, No they are not. They are trying to do a huge wind project here in Ohio that is being fought tooth and nail by the locals. I believe it encompasses several counties two of which I know for sure Logan & Clark. Few people want them. As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy, Hals talking of the vast stretches of land that will be developed for fossil fuels. Can you imagine a solar farm and the vast stretches of land that would have to be completely void of all vegitation? At this point the only clean energy is horsepower and that is literal. There is no green energy as is there no clean energy. The best choice we have is conservation of our energy and the production of energy with the least impact and nothing thrown at the wall to date has worked so lets keep on looking for alternatives.

Hal, I would support this idea and cause.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FirstBubba wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Do I see an indication that maybe "wind and solar" aren't the "environmental" champs they claim?
Don't know about everybody else, but them "windmill forests" ain't all that enchanting!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Bubba, No they are not. They are trying to do a huge wind project here in Ohio that is being fought tooth and nail by the locals. I believe it encompasses several counties two of which I know for sure Logan & Clark. Few people want them. As for solar that is the worst kind of alternative energy, Hals talking of the vast stretches of land that will be developed for fossil fuels. Can you imagine a solar farm and the vast stretches of land that would have to be completely void of all vegitation? At this point the only clean energy is horsepower and that is literal. There is no green energy as is there no clean energy. The best choice we have is conservation of our energy and the production of energy with the least impact and nothing thrown at the wall to date has worked so lets keep on looking for alternatives.

Hal, I would support this idea and cause.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dbenear1985 wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Wind farms are a terrible eyesore. I have one big enough to power 30,000 homes not 20 miles from my house with more going up every day. I hate to look at them, my electricity bill has not gone down it has gone up. I found out the the power generated is going to California and Wyoming. This is rediculous. I have to look at these things i should get some benefit out of them. If California and Wyoming want power put wind towers up in your own state not mine. Im not against wind energy although i am not sure its that much better than any other method. I just wonder why we are shipping this power out instead of helping out the local communities.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from aferraro wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

With current technology it takes massive amounts of space to generate solar power @ 10 football field worth of solar panels to equal a portable generator's output. This isn't ecological, sensible, or desirable. I’ve examined dozens of alternative energy companies. Solar and (to a lesser extent) wind farms only survive with large subsidies, not by producing cost effective energy. Natural gas is very cheap in North America and is projected to say that way for at least 10 years. We burn (waste) about the same amount of natural gas as we recover, because we lack pipelines and infrastructure to store gas from many oil drilling projects. That should be changed. We could also do basic scientism research to make better solar panels BEFORE we put them in production- but then politicians wouldn't get to pay off their donors with our tax money.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment