Critic questions Roan comment format |

Critic questions Roan comment format

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

An environmental advocate is questioning why comment on the future of the Roan Plateau must happen with the lick of a stamp rather than the click of a mouse.People have until Friday to submit their thoughts on how best to manage about 21,000 acres of the plateau, northwest of Rifle. Pete Kolbenschlag, who is part of the Save Roan Plateau campaign, wrote to BLM Colorado director Sally Wisely last week to ask why those comments can’t be submitted by e-mail or other electronic means.”BLM’s failure to do so … seems little more than an attempt to discourage public involvement,” he wrote.The BLM typically also allows comments on land management plans by e-mail, fax or over the Internet. It did so in taking public input on its draft management plan for the Roan Plateau, for which it received some 75,000 comments, most of them electronically.In June, the agency issued its decision for how to manage more than 50,000 acres on the plateau. That decision has been controversial because it allows oil and gas drilling on the plateau top. Conservationists and communities wanted a ban on drill rigs on top to protect wildlife, watersheds and scenery.While making that decision, the BLM held off on deciding how to manage 21,000 acres in areas of critical environmental concern, or ACECs. It agreed with a protest contending its draft Roan plan didn’t contain enough detail about these areas, and decided to provide 60 days for additional comment.Kolbenschlag says the BLM’s requirement that all comments be mailed or hand-delivered to its Glenwood office in writing appears to violate federal law aimed at eliminating government paperwork. But David Boyd, spokesman for the BLM’s Glenwood office, said Tuesday that the requirement was the most efficient way to handle the comments.The agency generally hires consultants to help with gathering public comment on management plans. It did so in the case of the Roan plan, but the contract didn’t include a secondary comment period. Modifying the contract would have added time and expense to the process, he said.Boyd said the agency received thousands of comments about areas of critical environmental concern during the first comment period, so it’s not as if the public hasn’t weighed in on the issue. He said the last he heard, fewer than 100 comments had been submitted in the supplemental period.The comment process aside, Kolbenschlag said the bigger issue is ensuring protection for critical areas. He believes those areas aren’t large enough. The BLM originally had found more than 36,000 acres on the Roan eligible for ACEC designation, he said.Boyd notes that the acreage receiving that designation is almost twice what the draft plan included, after 9,000 acres were added below the plateau rim.Kolbenschlag also would like to see 36,000 ACEC acres receive, at a minimum, no surface occupancy protection that would prohibit things such as gas well pads. But he worries that even there, ACEC designation doesn’t provide protection for wildlife migration corridors, wilderness-quality lands and other considerations. And NSO stipulations can be waived, he said.Boyd said such exceptions are rare. On the Roan, the stipulations often are used to protect multiple resources in one place, such as water, trout, big game, rare plants and steep slopes. It’s unlikely that there would be instances where none of these resources were in fact found to be threatened by surface occupancy in such a place and an exception would be warranted, he said.

Anyone wanting to comment on the proposed areas of critical environmental concern designations for the Roan Plateau must submit comments by mail or in person to the Bureau of Land Management, Glenwood Springs Field Office, 50629 Highway 6, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601. Comments must be received by Friday.