Friday, October 06, 2006

Colorado wildlife panel mulls energy statement

Associated Press writer Friday, October 06, 2006

RIFLE, Colo. -- The state Wildlife Commission would go on record in support of minimizing energy development's impacts on Colorado's wildlife, including some of the country's largest elk and deer herds, under a proposal submitted Thursday.

Division of Wildlife staffers asked the commission to consider a resolution calling for responsible energy development, a seat at the table when federal agencies make land-use decisions and cooperation with the oil and gas industry.

The commission, which oversees the Wildlife Division, will discuss the proposal in November.

Ron Velarde, manager of the division's northwest region, said the goal is to convey what wildlife means to the state of Colorado.

"I don't look at this as pointing fingers at anyone," Velarde said during a break in the commission's work session.

The intention is to minimize the effects of expanding energy development by working with federal agencies, energy companies, environmental and community groups and hunters and anglers, Velarde said.

"The one tune I hear consistently is that they believe it's important to work collaboratively," he said.

The resolution acknowledges that Colorado's huge deposits of natural gas, coal and oil shale mean that development likely will continue over the next 10 to 20 years.

Colorado has seen record gas drilling rates the last few years. Thousands of new wells are planned.

The resolution also highlights the role wildlife plays in the state economy: more than $2 billion in economic spinoff from hunting and angling, about 30,000 jobs in outfitting and related manufacturing and retail sales.

Russ George, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, the Wildlife Division's parent agency, said the resolution would be an important show of leadership. George, formerly the wildlife chief, said federal agencies have involved state wildlife experts more in the past few years in decisions about energy development.

Velarde said energy companies are also more interested in working with the division on avoiding harm to wildlife and habitat. He said the division and Williams Cos., one of the major gas producers in western Colorado, are talking about a joint experiment looking at what would happen to wildlife if companies drilled year-round to speed up the work and get out of an area.

Now, companies often face seasonal interruptions so wildlife can use winter range or breeding grounds.

The division is considering a second, more comprehensive study of the best ways to protect wildlife and habitat.

The agency is also creating eight new, energy-related jobs. The division hired Kim Kaal, who used to work for Encana Oil and Gas (USA), six months ago as a liaison with the industry and federal agencies. The division will create four more similar positions and four positions focusing on land use and acquisition for habitat. ec8cb03f15696648872571fe00728142.txt

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