Wilderness bill would protect Roan | AspenTimes.com

Wilderness bill would protect Roan

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette this week is unveiling a wilderness proposal that would ban drilling on much of the Roan Plateau north of Rifle.

The measure is the latest political maneuver aimed at staving off attempts to open up the area to natural gas leasing. However, the Roan proposal is not new for DeGette, who has included it in her Colorado wilderness bills going back to 1999, said Chris Arend, a DeGette spokesman.

The BLM previously had found wilderness-quality lands on top of the Roan, Arend said.

“It hasn’t been leased yet, so as far as we know those lands still have wilderness quality and should be considered for wilderness,” Arend said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has decided to open up the plateau for drilling. Conservationists have sought to protect the top from drilling rigs.

In a last-ditch maneuver, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, managed to convince the U.S. House to amend its federal energy bill to bar drilling on federal land on top of the plateau. A Senate energy bill has no such provision and the two bills have yet to be reconciled.

DeGette, D-Denver, supports Salazar and Udall’s efforts as well, Arend said.

DeGette’s measure would protect not just the plateau top but its cliffs and some valley areas as well, he said. As proposed, it carves out principal roads on top from the areas proposed for wilderness designation through what’s called “cherry-stemming,” so they could continue to be used. Motorized vehicle travel is prohibited in wilderness.

DeGette’s measure also would protect part of the Grand Hogback north of Rifle, including land containing the Rifle Arch. That area also has been proposed for drilling.

Some other local areas included in the proposal include Thompson Creek south of Carbondale, Deep Creek east of Glenwood Springs, and an addition to the Flat Tops Wilderness northeast of Glenwood Springs.

DeGette is scheduled to discuss her wilderness bill in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Altogether, her proposal includes dozens of areas, many of them in canyon country in western Colorado.

DeGette’s office points to a recent poll that found 70 percent of Coloradans favor wilderness.

“She knows that there’s a great deal of support for wilderness out there and she would really like to get a hearing in Congress on this,” Arend said.