Trails and tribulations: Balance may be elusive in BLM travel plan
A first public look at a draft proposal for the management of more than 1 million acres in western Colorado drew more than 150 people, some to worry that the plan would close too many dirt roads and others that it did too little to preserve wilderness.
Still others wanted to be sure the new plan takes into account the importance of the natural gas industry and others to find some way to balance a multitude of competing interests on the lands of Mesa, Delta, Garfield, Montrose and Rio Blanco counties administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Most who attended the open house at the Clarion Inn, 755 Horizon Drive, were drawn by the travel-management section of the proposed resource management plan for the Grand Junction Field Office of the BLM, prompted by concerns of road closures — concerns that bureau officials said were overhyped.
The prospect of closures, however, could have serious economic consequences for the Grand Valley, said Scott Lindsay, owner of the Grand Junction Harley-Davidson dealership.
The travel-management plan preferred by the BLM “would wreak economic havoc,” said Lindsay, who said that off-highway vehicles such as dirt bikes account for about 20 percent of his business.
For Lindsay, the issue isn’t so much closures of roads, but the crimp he fears it could put in the Grand Valley economy.
The BLM is proposing the closure of about 68 percent of 4,000 miles of roads in the Grand Junction Field Office area, but the percentage might be misleading, said James Cagney, northwest regional manager for the BLM.
The preferred alternative contemplates closing routes that criss-cross the landscape, some amounting to short-cuts and other simply connecting one major route to another.
The preferred alternative isn’t intended to close off destinations, Cagney said.
The desert area north of Grand Junction is a prime example of the necessity for some road closures, Cagney said, calling it a “maze of roads crossing each other” that requires closer management.
That same area, however, was touted by a Transworld Motocross magazine as the second-best area in the country for what is known as free-riding and that reputation draws riders from across the West to Grand Junction, pumping millions of dollars into the economy, Lindsay said.
Lindsay and others can advise the BLM by providing comment on the proposals contained in the draft management plan, as can advocates of other uses of those lands.
Janice Shepherd of Great Old Broads for Wilderness said she intends to chide the bureau for including only three potential wilderness areas in the plan, a fraction of the many that have been suggested over the years.
“I was quite disappointed” with that section of the plan, Shepherd said.
The draft plan contains four alternatives, with one, described as an approach calling for balance among many uses, being the preferred alternative. Another alternative calls for no change in management, one would emphasize conservation and another development.
The eventual plan needs to reflect the “critical new importance” of the affected lands and the possible value of oil and natural gas within the jurisdiction of the Grand Junction Field Office, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Chuck Silengo, 25, of Grand Junction took a CD copy of the draft plan, which he said he planned to study in depth. Sections of the final plan “could be skewed” to one constituency or another, Silengo said, noting he’d prefer a balanced approach.
“As you can see by my age, I’m going to be stuck with it,” he said.
While the conservation alternative in the plan is most appealing, Kate Graham of Conservation Colorado said she hoped to find ways of pleasing as many as possible, such as by supporting travel routes to locations overlooking wilderness areas.
“I’m one who is trying to bring people together” on the plan, Graham said.