Wild, scenic label unlikely for river

The Colorado River is shown Tuesday near the Utah line. The Bureau of Land Management has sought recommendtions from a broad group of residents and officials about how to manage the westernmost stretch of the river in Colorado..

Congress should decide how to manage the Colorado River for the last leg of its run out of the state, but preferably not as a wild and scenic river.

So says a group that includes ranchers, environmental organizations, local government officials and others.

The same group also split bitterly on whether one or more small streams on the Uncompahgre Plateau ought to be recognized suitable for designation as wild and scenic rivers.

The organization has been studying the Colorado, Dolores and Gunnison rivers and some of their tributaries for more than a year and faced a Friday deadline to complete recommendations to the Grand Junction Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management.

The office is in the process of revising its resource management plan, a task it takes up once every two decades. It is to release a draft environmental impact statement in a year and complete the process by the end of 2012.

The Colorado’s path out of the state takes it through the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, where its boundary is defined as the extent on either side of the river’s 100-year floodplain.

Congress should recognize the nature of the river and the boundaries of the conservation area and Black Ridge Wilderness Area to the south, the group said.

Those boundaries would “float and change according to the level of the water,” Steve Smith of The Wilderness Society said.

Existing laws and policies already do much to leave the river in its current condition, the stakeholders decided. In outlining its position, the stakeholders group asked that the entire question be reopened if Congress doesn’t act by 2015.

Consensus on the Colorado evaporated, though, when the group considered whether East, West and Ute creeks and the north fork of West Creek should be considered suitable for wilderness designation.

Landowners opposed recommending that any of the creeks be recommended as suitable for recognition as wild and scenic, but Ute Creek in particular presents an opportunity for a “custom-crafted” designation, Smith said.

The four-mile stretch of creek could become overwhelmed by visitors lured there by the recognition that the creek is suitable for designation, rancher Dori Van Loan said. And they would most likely be disappointed, she said.

Though parts of the creek are inaccessible, the lower section can be reached with relative ease, Van Loan said.

“Anybody can go there,” Van Loan said. “It’s just that nobody goes there twice.”

The north fork of West Creek “is a suitable river,” Jason Wedemeyer of the Colorado Environmental Coalition said.

Recognizing the creeks as suitable for designation doesn’t mean the bureau would have the resources to manage it as such, said Richard Connell of the Mesa County Farm Bureau.

Without agreement within the stakeholders group, the various individuals and organizations will take their own positions on the streams. The stakeholders group also asked that a separate study be made on the Dolores River as it runs from Gateway to Utah.


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