Human activity and animals' avoidance response to development are expected to reduce the former utility and effective availability of forage and cover resources, which would be expected to ultimately prompt density-dependent population adjustment (i.e., primarily nutrition and its ultimate influence on demographic performance). It is expected that direct and indirect resource loss attributable to natural gas development in the WRFO would, at any given time, impose population impacts more or less proportional to the extent of habitat adversely modified or influenced on a species-specific basis.
— BLM Draft RMPA/EIS, WRFO Oil and Gas Development, August 2012
You are forgiven.
In fact, if you are among the presumed minority whose eyes didn't glaze over upon reading the lone, jargon-laced paragraph above, odds are you are: (a) a career scientist, (b) a full-time employee of the Bureau of Land Management's White River Field Office, or (c) all of the above and author of the draft resource management plan with a title only an acronym's mother could love.
Seriously, who talks like that? The punch line is that the quote from the plan that will determine the administration of more than 1.5 million acres of public land and prime game habitat in western Colorado for the next 20 years makes far more sense to folks like you and me than the rest of it.
So if you, like me, failed to wade through the painfully cumbersome document and submitted comments on the proposal before last Monday's deadline, you are excused. But if you answered (c) to the quiz above, well, as the man said to Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." And I don't like it any more than him.
Fortunately, there's an additional option out there dedicated to shedding light on the proposal to potentially drill more than 16,000 new oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin region surrounding Meeker some refer to as the "mule deer factory." Sportsmen have found interpretive assistance through groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Colorado Wildlife Federation and Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, who spell it out in plain English.
"The proposed management plan allows for a 30 percent decline in mule deer and elk numbers compared to Colorado Parks and Wildlife's long-term population objectives," CBHA co-chairman David Lien told members last week via e-mail.
"Development of this scale will irretrievably change some of the finest elk and mule deer habitat in the world — and the best big game hunting in Colorado," TRCP field representative Nick Payne echoed in a press release. "We're calling on the BLM to ensure that this development is better balanced with sportsmen's values in mind."
Now, I'm no scientist, but I have been following this whole declining mule deer population issue for a while now. For those who haven't, the gist is that mule deer populations in Colorado and much of the surrounding West have declined significantly in recent years for a variety or reasons. So much so that CPW has embarked on a statewide deer management mission designed to engage external stakeholders and solicit input through a series of meetings that will result in a collaborative management plan. Get this, BLM: The idea is to "develop an effective communication strategy."
Of course, the ultimate goal is to figure out why mule deer populations are on the wane on the Western Slope and figure out the best way to stabilize herds. I don't have the answer, but I'm reasonably confident that undermining state wildlife goals by drilling the life out of Colorado's "mule deer factory" isn't it. Balancing energy development with herd population objectives through coordinated habitat maintenance might be a decent starting point.
"None of the management alternatives currently presented in the new BLM draft management plan meets the state wildlife agency's desired population objectives for mule deer," noted Ed Arnett of the TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development. "If the habitat management does not match with state agency population goals, hunting opportunities will suffer in the long run."
Some might consider that unforgivable.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, email@example.com