North Park Valley
The North Park Valley.The North Park valley lies more than 8,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Rawah, Park and Zirkel ranges. Numerous creeks and rivers flow from these mountains into North Park to create the headwaters of the North Platte River, a 680-mile waterway that flows through Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has leased 125,000 acres of North Park for oil and gas drilling, and pressure is increasing throughout the region to exploit the energy resources that lie under the area. Test wells already have been drilled by one company and two other companies are seeking approval from the BLM to gain drilling access to leases in the valley.
The North Park parcels that have been leased for energy development include provisions for scant quarter-mile buffers around known sage grouse breeding grounds, or “leks.” Science has shown such measures are inadequate to protect the grouse, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has expressed concern about leasing in these critical sage grouse nesting and breeding areas. If development moves forward using the BLM’s typical criteria for buffers, sage grouse populations are likely to decline. And that decline will inevitably lead to reduced or eliminated hunting seasons.
What’s at Risk?
The North Platte River is recognized as a Gold Medal trout fishery by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and as a Blue Ribbon trout stream by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, designations reserved for the states’ highest-quality coldwater fish habitats.
North Park is home to one of the strongholds for greater sage grouse in Colorado and the North Park mule deer herd is renowned for its long seasonal migrations. The valley also provides excellent hunting for elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, sage grouse, waterfowl and moose. Today the few roads and a limited amount of energy development infrastructure have not affected North Park’s wildlife habitat. Large-scale development, however, would require the construction of roads, drill pads, pipelines and other infrastructure that has been shown to increase sediment loads in waterways and fragment crucial wildlife habitat. If development is not pursued responsibly in North Park, hunting and fishing could be ruined for decades.
The Sportsmen’s Solution
The BLM has a great opportunity to write a comprehensive conservation plan for North Park and provide baseline data prior to further development. Thorough planning that considers the entire landscape will enable thoughtful energy development to proceed in North Park while minimizing the adverse effects on hunting and fishing resources.
The Kremmling BLM office, which manages the federal mineral estate in this region, is revising its 24-year-old resource management plan. Development should not proceed until this revised plan is completed and incorporates the latest science available for managing sage grouse populations and other wildlife and fisheries resources.
In addition, development occurring in areas adjacent to Gold Medal and Blue Ribbon streams must be done with extreme care. If development occurs, stream buffers must be established to safeguard water quality. These streams offer some of the best fishing the states of Colorado and Wyoming have to offer. The loss of the unique fisheries in these remarkable waters would constitute a national tragedy.
Sportsman in the Spotlight
Dr. Richard Wheeler
A dentist in Evergreen, Colo., Richard Wheeler has been hunting and fishing in North Park for more than 30 years – and he likes it just the way it is. "North Park is one of those rare places where people still have some of the pioneer spirit and you feel like you're stepping back into old Colorado," he said. Because the ranches there haven't been replaced by drilling rigs, hunters can still roam far and wide in search of elk, deer, antelope or moose.
"We're losing a lot of Colorado to development, but North Park is a special place where we can't let that happen." - Dr. Richard WheelerPrev: Roan Plateau