Senate candidates split on wilderness use |

Senate candidates split on wilderness use

Photo special to the DailyFlight Courtesy of EcoFlight Natural gas wells already dot the western Garfield landscape, as shown in this aerial view west of Rifle, at the foot of the Roan Cliffs. Now industry observers are saying another 5,000 to 10,000 wells may be drilled in the county over the next decade.

The four candidates for Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat are split on whether more protections are needed from exploration and drilling of natural gas in the White River National Forest and other public lands.The candidates were split on party lines. Democrats Mike Miles and Ken Salazar said they would consider additional protection for public lands. Republicans Pete Coors and Bob Schaffer said they believe ample protections exist.The candidates were also split on another leading public lands management issue – user fees for hikers, cyclists, off-road enthusiasts and other recreationalists. But this time it wasn’t along party lines.

Coors and Salazar opposed fees for recreation uses of national forests. Schaffer and Miles were more supportive.Colorado is seeing unprecedented levels of applications by the oil and gas industry to drill in the state. The exploration interest has sparked debates about the appropriate use of lands in the White River National Forest and the nearby Roan Plateau, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.Salazar said mining and energy development must be “consistent” with local interests. He said a more thorough analysis must be made on the suitability of some public lands for exploration and drilling.In the bigger picture, Salazar wants the United States to improve its energy efficiency. “We need to put a national priority on ridding us of our dependence on foreign oil,” he said.

Miles said a balance must be sought between meeting the U.S. energy needs and protecting sensitive lands. “We are really skewing the balance,” he said. “We’ve gone way overboard.”Like Salazar, he said the key to the issue is increasing efficiency and decreasing dependency on foreign sources.Schaffer, a former three-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives who stepped down in 2003, said gas and oil exploration is a legitimate use of public lands that were set aside for multiple uses. He said it is also an “important source of revenue.”He supports oil and gas extraction as long as it is done within limits already established. Those existing rules demonstrate a “federal sensitivity” to protecting lands, he said.

Schaffer couldn’t recall if he voted on specific bills about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska that were separate from broader energy bills during his tenure in Congress. “I would have voted for it,” he said.Coors labeled himself a proponent of multiple uses of federal lands. “I’m an advocate of full utilization of our natural resources,” he said.He said he doesn’t believe the United States will ever become self-sufficient on energy but he supports tapping into what is available.

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