Mesa County residents frown over BLM plan

This Friday, Mesa County commissioners are expected to submit to the Bureau of Land Management a summary of citizen feedback on a draft BLM plan that aims to guide public land upkeep and use for at least the next two decades.

The BLM has been accepting public comment on its Draft Resource Management Plan for the Grand Junction Field Office since Jan. 14 and will take more comments through June 24. The county has received a decent chunk of comments itself from local citizens, most of whom are concerned about the plan’s designs for BLM-managed trails and roads. Those comments, including feedback from county-hosted meetings, emails, phone messages and a petition with more than 1,800 signatures, are part of a packet of information the county plans to forward to the BLM before the agency’s comment deadline.

The plan addresses numerous aspects of BLM land management practices, including how to juggle air quality, oil and gas activity, cattle-grazing and river water quality. Most citizen concerns, however, have centered on one part of the plan — roads and trails. Mesa County Public Works Director Pete Baier said the vast majority of the 3,000-plus county residents his department has heard from are concerned about their favorite pathways becoming inaccessible.

“The BLM proposed closing or managing differently two-thirds of routes they found in the county,” Baier said, adding the county will suggest 800 miles of routes being added back into the management plan at citizen request.

Northwest Colorado BLM Public Affairs Specialist Chris Joyner said that estimate is misleading because some of the routes are adjacent to each other. He compared it to stretching out every noodle in a bowl of spaghetti to judge the meal’s size.

“If six paths get to the top of a hill we may have only identified (it as) one,” Joyner said.

Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said a friend of his who rides BMX bikes in the desert said there are sometimes good reasons for multiple routes, such as one route being accessible for an experienced rider while another is easier for a child to mount. He added a BLM draft plan to close several routes within a riding area near Grand Junction Regional Airport may create too much wear in that part of the desert.

The BLM last approved a plan like this in 1987. A lot has changed since then, Joyner said, so the BLM began working on a new one in October 2008. The process included surveying the county and identifying as many routes as possible. Joyner said using all of those trails may increase erosion and impact river water quality and the species that live in the river.

Baier and Joyner agreed the county and BLM want to work together and listen to community input.

“We want people to be satisfied that we’ve considered their uses and their feelings,” Joyner said.

Baier said it will likely take a year for the BLM to consider all community comments and complete a final management plan. He hopes the county’s letter to the agency will give people assurance they’ve been heard.

“A lot of people hunt, fish, make a livelihood and use these lands,” he said. “I think people support the fact we’re listening.”


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