Documents reveal ‘monumental’ plans for land by BLM

Broad swaths of western land, equivalent to the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined, should be considered “treasured lands” and managed without regard to state lines or other jurisdictional boundaries, according to an internal Bureau of Land Management document.

Parts of the document were made public via a leak earlier this year, when several parcels of land, including many in Colorado, were listed as potential national monuments under a law more than a century old.

The exact context of the listing, however, remained unknown until the agency last week turned over the complete document, labeled “discussion paper” and marked “internal draft — NOT FOR RELEASE.”

Among the Colorado lands that might be designated among the nation’s treasured landscapes are those included in the Hidden Gems proposal, which encompasses 400,000 acres of lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM in central and western Colorado, and is before Congress, as well as the Vermillion Basin in northwest Colorado. The San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa regions in eastern and central Utah are included.

Over the next 25 years, the paper says, the BLM will need to enlist the aid of the administration and Congress to “make our vision of integrated, landscape-level management a reality.”

The land-use process of the BLM, which was founded as a mutiple-use agency, should be used to “manage for conservation values,” even lands deemed ineligible for designation as monuments, the discussion paper said.

The phrase “manage for conservation values” is underlined by hand, but there is nothing to indicate who underlined that phrase, or many others in the document, which is unsigned.

To accomplish those goals, the agency recommended building on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “expressed interest in the model of local leadership and cooperation exemplified” in the establishment of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area in western Colorado.

Congress designated the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area last year.

“Should the legislative process not prove fruitful, or if a nationally significant natural or cultural resource were to come under threat of imminent harm,” the paper said, “BLM would recommend that the administration consider using the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments by presidential declaration.”

The 1906 Antiquities Act was used by presidents to set aside areas such as Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Denali in Alaska and most recently the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by President Bill Clinton.

The Department of Interior, which includes the BLM, said in a statement the “preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions within BLM, but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration.”

Listening sessions held across the country, such as one last month in Grand Junction that was attended by Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and BLM Director Robert Abbey, are intended to allow Americans a say in the way those lands and others are managed, the statement said.

The Moffat County Commission, which opposes plans by the BLM to cordon off the Vermillion Basin from natural gas drilling, wasn’t invited to the Grand Junction listening session, “So there you go,” Commissioner Audrey Danner said.

The agency’s description of the Vermillion Basin notes its whitewater river as one of the attributes that makes it worthy of more conservation-oriented management, and that is “absolutely incorrect,” Danner said.

The commission also disputes the description as having wildlife-migration corridors, though it does have animal population centers.

Officials in Moffat County were aware from news reports of the documents that were leaked originally to U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus and ranking member on the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Danner said.

No federal officials, though, made Moffat County aware of the original leak or the full document, Danner said. But the issue has the commission’s attention.

“We’re watching it very carefully and may respond,” Danner said.

The vision of the BLM shouldn’t be limited to one part of the nation, the discussion paper says.

Efforts to designate new monuments, conservation areas, wild and scenic rivers and historic trails “should not be focused solely on the West,” the paper says, “but also include areas in the rest of the country that warrant such protection.”


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