Deep Creek found ‘suitable’ for wild status

Protections possible without federal wilderness designation

Federal agencies have found Deep Creek east of Glenwood Canyon to be suitable for wild and scenic protective status.

But the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have decided to defer such a determination for parts of the Colorado River in and east of the canyon and instead give a coalition the chance to provide similar protections while keeping the federal government out of it.

The decisions were announced as part of final resource management plans released by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Kremmling field offices, and a related action by the White River National Forest. They are subject to protest periods before they can be finalized.

The agency determinations regarding Deep Creek wouldn’t confer the protective status on Deep Creek. That would require an act of Congress, or by the Interior secretary under certain conditions when a state governor petitions for it. Only one waterway in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, is now a wild and scenic river.

The Deep Creek suitability finding applies to Forest Service and BLM segments covering about 15 miles of the Colorado River tributary, which as its name suggests is rugged and largely inaccessible. According to a suitability report from both agencies, they determined the segments can be managed under the wild and scenic designation “with very little conflict with other uses because most of the land is federal, and the likelihood of development is small.”

Circumstances are different on the Colorado River, leading the agencies to hold off, at least for now, on determining wild and scenic suitability for nearly 100 miles of water on several stretches from Gore Canyon outside Kremmling through No Name just east of Glenwood Springs. Instead, they’ve decided to see if a stakeholder group’s alternative management plan will suffice. That group is made up of counties, conservation groups, western Colorado and Front Range water utilities, and other entities worried about the implications should wild and scenic status be conferred on the river.

“It will have all the protections of that but doesn’t come with the federal designation, which is going to be key for the local management of the river in Colorado,” said Mike Eytel, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is part of the group.

The concern of a wild and scenic designation is its potential to limit water development within river stretches receiving that protection.

“It could have a significant impact on our ability to develop Colorado River water, in my opinion,” Eytel said.

The Forest Service’s draft decision states that the decision to give the stakeholders’ proposal a chance will provide certainty for their “water yield and flexibility for future management on such a complex river system as the Colorado River.”

Eytel said assuming the decisions go forward, the real work begins for the group as it seeks to monitor and manage the river as outlined in its plan. Under the Forest Service and BLM decisions, they reserve the right to revisit the suitability question later if protections aren’t adequate.

The BLM also has found dozens of other river and creek stretches to not be suitable for wild and scenic status, including stretches farther upstream on the Colorado River.


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