Conservationists rally to protect wildlife, fishing haven

Photo by Jack Dempsey. Pronghorns are among the many different kinds of wildlife that have led some people to call North Park the American Serengeti

Contact: Judith Kohler, National Wildlife Federation, 303-441-5163;kohlerj@nwf.org

WALDEN, Colo. – Hunters, anglers and other wildlife advocates have teamed up to ask federal officials considering energy development to maintain the long-term integrity of North Park, one of the region’s premier landscapes.

The 8,000-foot-high valley carved by glaciers and ringed by mountains boasts world-class hunting and fishing, wildlife watching opportunities and recreation. The site in north-central Colorado is also in the crosshairs of energy development as more companies begin tapping the huge Niobrara oil formation.

Members of Colorado, Wyoming and national conservation groups, spearheaded by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, sent letters Friday urging the Bureau of Land Management  to consider wildlife as it updates the management plan for ``one of the West’s last lonely landscapes that still retain much of their native habitat and hunting and fishing traditions.’’

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL LETTER

The groups support use of a master leasing plan, one of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s energy leasing reforms intended to head off conflicts between development and environmental and wildlife concerns. Absent a master leasing plan, Alternative C in the draft resource management plan offers ``serious consideration of habitat protection,’’ said National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul.

Different options in the draft plan by the BLM’s Kremmling office would open from 382,400 to 642,900 acres of federal minerals to potential development. The BLM is taking public comments on the proposal until Jan. 17.

``North Park is a unique, high-mountain valley with less than one person per square mile,’’ said Barbara Vasquez, a Walden-area resident working with Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation on conservation issues in the area.

North Park is the headwaters of the North Platte River, which flows north into Wyoming and helps maintain habitat critical for endangered species in Nebraska, Vasquez added. The North Platte and its tributaries feed gold-medal fishing waters in Colorado and Wyoming.

North Park also encompasses key habitat for greater sage-grouse and the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, a major nesting spot for waterfowl and habitat for moose and river otters.

Photo by Jack Dempsey. Bob Meulengracht of Trout Unlimited and Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development talks with Barbara Vasquez, a Walden-area resident. In the background is an oil well located near the Michigan River, one of the North Platte’s tributaries.

 

A description of North Park as the American Serengeti is apt, said Bob Meulengracht of Trout Unlimited and the Colorado coordinator for Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. He fished with his father in North Park in the 1960s and ‘70s, has spent time with his family exploring the Rawah Wilderness and bagged a moose on a hunt with a college buddy.

``The moose hunt was a very unique experience and a great hunt,’’ Meulengracht recalled. ``North Park offers the some of the best opportunities for hunters and anglers. North Park has some of the best fishing in Colorado for all types of anglers.  Hunters have the opportunity to hunt great deer, elk and pronghorn herds and, if lucky enough to draw a license, moose.  Moose offer the hunt of a lifetime.”

In their letters to the Colorado BLM, the conservation groups wrote ``we understand that energy development should and will occur.’’ It is important to include area landowners, businesses and stakeholders as well as state and federal wildlife and land managers in the planning and to analyze potential impacts across a broad landscape before leases are approved, the groups said.

Wildlife-based recreation contributes more than $14 million annually to Jackson County’s economy, according to a 2007 study for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Besides hunting and angling, many wildlife watchers visit North Park to look for moose or visit sage grouse leks in the spring to observe the birds’ mating rituals. 

A key concern of conservationists is the location of wells, said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

"An example of why planning is needed is an existing well pad site nestled on the edge of a willows basin, which is important moose habitat,’’ O’Neill said.  ``There also are numerous streams prized as fisheries. Current oil and gas rules do not prevent development too close to these riparian areas and in fact one drilling pad on state land is a stone's throw from the high water mark of a well known tributary."

# # #

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Developmentis a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnershipand the National Wildlife Federation