Motorized sportsmen fight closure of BLM land
Advocates for multi-user access to public lands on Wednesday previewed a possible tool — a nearly 150-year-old federal law — that could be used to challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s recently drafted Resource Management Plan as it pertains to motorized vehicle use on public lands.
Brandon Siegfried, an activist for maintaining access to roads on public lands, called the meeting and sees “an assault” locally on that access in conjunction with the BLM’s proposed plan.
The preferred alternative in the plan — one of four options the BLM is considering but the starting point for most of the discussions — calls for 2,100 miles of road closures locally, Siegfried said.
He said Mesa County currently counts about 3,100 miles, meaning the BLM’s preferred alternative would reduce that amount by 67 percent. He estimated a 60 percent closure of roads in desert areas is being proposed in the preferred alternative.
Based on the attendance at Wednesday’s meeting — dozens of citizens lined every row of the multipurpose room in the old county courthouse — that possibility is a big concern.
“We’re not going to have anywhere to ride our ATVs. We’re going to have to go to Garfield County, because (Garfield County Commissioner) John Martin has been protecting their access,” Siegfried said.
Martin has been using the statute RS 2477 — a law adopted by Congress in 1866 that granted to states rights of way across federal lands, when the West was initially being settled — to stop federal agencies like the BLM from closing roads.
That includes everything from jeep and ATV roads, to singletrack, to footpaths, to old wagon trails.
By demonstrating a clear historical record of the roads, an exhaustive process completed only by poring over 1800s-era maps and property deeds, Martin has been successful in using RS 2477 as a tool to keep roads open.
He urged Mesa County to follow a similar path.
“Get interested in research, and why it is important,” Martin told the crowd.
Another speaker at the meeting was David Justice of Gunnison, a former Colorado House candidate who ran unsuccessfully in 2012. Justice successfully confronted authorities over a federal road closure in his area, using RS 2477 as the basis of his argument.
Justice discussed a resolution passed by Montrose County commissioners in 2000, which asserted the county’s inherent rights to area roads, based on the statute.
Similar resolutions were passed in Moffat County in 2002 and Apache County, Ariz., in 2011, among other counties, with favorable results in terms of keeping roads open, Justice said.
The panel hoped Mesa County would follow suit.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” Justice said. “This is a way to re-establish the balance of power.”
The BLM is hosting a series of meetings to collect public comment on the massive Resource Management Plan, and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca implored the people in the crowd to attend one of the meetings to make known their concerns about the potential impacts to motorized use of BLM lands that are being proposed.
A BLM open house will be held tonight in Grand Junction. Future open houses are scheduled for Feb. 5 in Gateway and Feb. 7 in Fruita at the city’s Civic Center. More information and the plan itself can be found online by going to http://www.blm.gov and searching for Grand Junction.
Citing the fact that Mesa County is made up of about 75 percent of public lands, Acquafresca added. “Our entire economy and our culture is intertwined with these public lands — always has been, always will be.”