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Budget Compromise Impacts Wilderness Conservation

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

A: As Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC explains, the status of the Wild Lands is now in limbo.

KIRK SIEGLER: Kurt Kunkle of the Colorado Environmental Coalition is driving on a muddy, rutted out road beneath the ridge. The area is an undeveloped island in the middle of oil and gas country near the Colorado-Utah state line.

KURT KUNKLE: To travel from here is more efficient on foot. Bushwhacking through dense stems of juniper trees makes for a tough climb, but before long, there are no roads in sight. Kunkle says South Shale Ridge has everything wilderness should, it look untrammeled, wild even, but until Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's recent Wild Lands order, he says the Bureau of Land Management couldn't manage it as potential wilderness.

KUNKLE: It's what I think of when I think of wilderness. I have a great affinity for Colorado's gaming country and I love exploring out here.

SIEGLER: Kunkle says protecting places like this is important for this region's tourist and hunting economy. But on the other side of South Shale Ridge, where the cliffs drop dramatically to the valley floor, David Ludlum looks out at the same vista in a very different way.

DAVID LUDLUM: I see an area that's extremely beautiful. I also see an area that at the same time has resource potential.

SIEGLER: Ludlum is executive director of the Western Colorado Oil and Gas Association. He says drilling and the environment has coexisted in places like these for years and the Wild Lands order put everything in economic limbo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS)

SIEGLER: A rain shower adds to the sweet smell of sage brush to exhaust fumes at a nearby truck stop along Interstate 70. Some of these trucks are owned by Trevor Taylor's company, Old West Oil Field Services, which hauls water and sand to nearby drill rigs that frack, or hydraulic fracture, natural gas wells.

TREVOR TAYLOR: We're at the mercy of those energy companies. I don't get to go out and just create jobs in places. I only get to work if they're working.

SIEGLER: The economy is probably why opposition to the Wild Lands order has been building, says Patty Limerick. She heads the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.

PATTY LIMERICK: When we have a recession and we have significant unemployment and we have uncertainty about economic recovery, some of these very nice ideas that we have about nature and respected forum, those just go to the edge of the attention span.

SIEGLER: For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.