Book Cliffs, Uinta forest on 'imperiled lands' list
Sportsmen's group says fishing, hunting threatened
Two areas in Utah have landed on a list of the 10 most "imperiled" places to hunt and fish in the West because of threats posed by oil and gas development.
A report released Thursday by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development named the Uinta National Forest east of Provo and the Book Cliffs region in eastern Utah among the "irreplaceable landscapes" vital to fish and wildlife and prized by hunters and anglers.
"Hunting and Fishing Imperiled" was put out by a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.
Available at www.sportsmen4responsibleenergy.org, the report asserts that from 2000 to 2008, the number of permits for oil and gas development tripled, and an estimated 126,000 new wells are planned for the next 20 years. Another 26 million acres — an area larger than Ohio — are already leased for development, the report said.
"Unfortunately, because some of the development is poorly planned, America's outdoor legacy is at risk," according to the report.
In a teleconference Thursday, speakers urged a methodical and coordinated approach to energy development that also preserves recreational opportunities.
"Sportsmen understand that the country needs energy," said Steve Torbit, "We believe in energy development, but responsible energy development. What we would like to do is pull back from that chaotic approach of the last eight years."
Torbit, the Rocky Mountain regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, said a "chicken pox" pattern of oil and gas development has created a dramatic shift in Western landscapes identified in five states named in the report.
Gas and oil companies, Torbit charged, have had a free run over that eight-year period, with federal agencies exercising oversight that demonstrates little charity for environmental concerns.
"If you go back to your college days, it's like some fraternity offering free beer to the whole campus," said Torbit, a former wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In Utah, the Uinta National Forest has become a target for energy exploration, according to the report, with 165,000 acres leased for development since 2004, mostly in the Diamond Fork and Strawberry Valley regions.
"The Uinta National Forest provides some of the best trout fishing in Utah, and I can't imagine what it would look like if drilling occurred near Strawberry Reservoir and along the Diamond Fork," said Dave Tripp, a conservation officer for High Country Fly Fishers who participated in the teleconference.
The Book Cliffs region, too, has been in the crosshairs of energy developers, with much of the area already leased in a disjointed fashion, the report said. The Bureau of Land Management estimates 7,800 new natural gas wells will be drilled in the Vernal and Price areas alone, and a 45-mile highway is planned through the heart of the region, disrupting crucial winter range for deer.
The report says the region is one the "greatest" big-game hunting areas on earth that will be lost if development is allowed to occur in a pell-mell fashion that fails to take in winter and summer ranges and preserve fishing opportunities.
A number of site-specific recommendations are listed in the report, but overall, the coalition is urging improved planning, adoption of best management practices, better public involvement and improved monitoring and mitigation.
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