GarCo, BLM look for avenues of cooperation on remote public and private lands
Glenn Adams was out near Douglas Pass recently, ground-checking routes for public access — an enviable part of his new job — when he realized he was not alone.
“Here comes a guy, he’d driven about a mile, parked a truck, an old guy from Rangely, looking at the birds,” Adams said in an interview.
It’s for just such reasons that Garfield County hired Adams, formerly the Rifle district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, to help it research route ownership and public easement statuses, and advocate on behalf of the county for preserving historical access through private property and to public lands.
Adams’ recent encounter with the bird-watcher reaffirmed for him the value of maintaining such access in places such as the Douglas Pass area.
“Having those opportunities — you can pull off the highway and walk or hunt — it felt right. Closing it off doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Last week, reporting back to county commissioners after about a half year on the job, Adams offered praise, as did County Attorney Frank Hutfless, for the cooperation the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office is showing and the direction it is taking as it prepares the final version of its travel management plan proposal.
That plan is part of a resource management plan update the agency is undergoing. Last week, as a cooperating agency in that effort, Garfield County submitted further comments on the travel plan, and Adams told Garfield commissioners those comments raise no major concerns — “nothing that was really worthy of protesting.”
He said of the BLM, “I really feel like the intent of what we were asking, they tried to cooperate as much as they can. … I think they’ve done a pretty good job.”
When he first looked at the draft travel plan six months ago, he worried about the future of some short roads up canyons into the Bookcliffs in the Douglas Pass and nearby Baxter Pass areas.
But he said he’s now happy to see the agency intends to keep them open.
Earlier in the BLM’s planning process, Garfield County had expressed concern about some of the route closures that the agency initially proposed.
Hutfless told Garfield commissioners last week, “I really do want to thank publicly Katie Stevens of the Bureau of Land Management for her willingness to sit down and open up cooperative lines.”
Stevens is the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office manager.
Hutfless said he thinks the interests of the county and BLM are not that far apart.
“It’s just a matter of having a positive dialogue,” Hutfless said.
Stevens said the BLM received some 2,600 comments on its draft resource management plan, and about two-thirds were specific to the travel plan. It also continues to get feedback from cooperating agencies as it prepared to release its final proposal in a few months.
“We have been working as hard as we can to listen very carefully to those folks and their feedback,” Stevens said.
She said she can’t speak to specifics of what the final proposal will contain and how it has been changed based on comments provided to the agency prior to its release.
The BLM heard early concerns from others besides Garfield County about the amount of route closures contained in its draft proposal. But Stevens noted it also heard from people calling for even more closures.
“What we looked at was really the quality of information that the commenters brought forward or the perspective they were trying to convey to us,” she said.
Garfield’s comments aren’t iron-clad in favor of keeping routes open. As an example, Adams wrote in support of closing half of one short road east of Douglas Pass, saying it’s unnecessary because the remainder of the road offers sufficient access to a ridge.
Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said access challenges for the county on its western end pertain more to private landowners than the federal government.
One thing it is asking of the BLM is to keep routes open beyond where public access to them is currently in question, in hopes that the county can someday prove the existence of easements or acquire them and the BLM routes can be used.
Stevens said the Grand Junction Field Office has about 400 miles of routes not accessible to the public because of a lack of access through private land.
She said there are places where the BLM would like additional public access as well, but in some of those situations it feels that it’s up to Garfield County to work out some of those issues within the county.
“They have a more direct role in that,” she said.