Bear Ranch exchange seen in new light after elections

The Bear Ranch land exchange, considered dead after the November election, might be resuscitated.

One of the leading opponents of the exchange, Ed Marston of Paonia, said he is interested in talking about the idea some more.

The Gunnison County Commission — while not committing itself to the full backing it showed last time around —  is scheduled Tuesday to consider writing to federal legislators, asking them to conduct a more open process than last time. That is, if they choose to raise the issue again, County Administrator Matthew Birnie said.

The commission has a new member, so Gunnison County might have to reconsider its role as one of the most active supporters of the land exchange, which involved properties in two states and lands managed by several federal agencies. For the newest player on the scene, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., the proposal is one among many he’s looking at as he begins his first year in Congress.

Tipton “has not looked at it in great deal at this point,” said his Washington, D.C., spokesman, Josh Green. “We need to have a conversation with both sides and have a better understanding” of the proposal.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., whom Tipton defeated in November, had introduced a measure for completing the complicated swap, but his measure died with the end of last year’s session of Congress. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., introduced a companion measure in the Senate last year, and it also would have to be reintroduced. There haven’t been any discussions about doing that, his office said.

Marston, a Paonia resident and former publisher of The High Country News, said Friday he “would love to negotiate” an agreement that would allow for a swap, under certain conditions. He made the offer earlier that week in a discussion at the Paonia Public Library with representatives of the Bear Ranch in attendance.

Representatives of Bear Ranch didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.

Marston, who first drew attention to the proposed exchange last year before declaring he opposed it, said Friday the key is public access through the land beneath Ragged Mountain and behind Paonia Reservoir.

“If he’s going to cut the whole thing off, it’s a nonstarter,” Marston said, referring to Bear Ranch owner William Koch.

Koch sought to acquire about 1,800 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management that separates two parcels of his property. In exchange for the rugged BLM land, the federal government would get about 900 acres of land overlooking Blue Mesa Reservoir and opposite the scenic Dillon Pinnacles.

To sweeten the deal, Koch, the billionaire owner of Oxbow Resources, which owns the Oxbow Mine near Paonia, was willing to include private land in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal. That property includes the home owned by the discoverer of the fossils on display there.

The proposed exchange also included trail improvements in Gunnison County and the acquisition of land near Marble.


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