Dominguez-Escalante plan will help preserve great lands

By Joe Neuhof

Everybody knows what a national park is, but not many people know what a national monument is and even fewer understand our national conservation areas.

In western Colorado, we regularly visit these beautiful lands and notice important differences that make these places unique in their history and management.

As our valley weighs the cost and benefit of changing the Colorado National Monument to a national park, while quickly approaching the 97th birthday of the National Park Service, we should pause for a moment and appreciate our most recent system of protected public lands, the Bureau of Land Management’s national conservation lands.

Created in 2000, these lands now boast 887 units and more than 27 million acres, rapidly competing with the 84 million acres of national parks in this country.

If you haven’t heard of this new collection of outstanding landscapes, think local — very local — as the Grand Valley is the only place in the country with three national conservation areas within an hour’s drive of one another: McInnis Canyons, Dominguez-Escalante and Gunnison Gorge national conservation areas.

If you’ve ever ridden your horse near Devil’s Canyon, explored Cactus Park on your ATV, hiked to the waterfall in Big Dominguez Canyon or boated the wild rapids of Gunnison Gorge, then you have a taste for these outstanding public landscapes. 

One of these three local areas, recently designated Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, is undergoing a public planning process governing how all 210,000 acres will be managed for the next 25 years. This is an important point in the history of this local landscape, and the comment deadline is Sept. 23.

This draft plan was developed with the assistance of the Dominguez-Escalante NCA Advisory Council and input from numerous user groups and individual citizens. Through it, BLM land managers are working hard to balance all the desires of community members, historical users and special interests, while making sure we protect the scenic, cultural and biological resources that make it one of a kind.

Dominguez-Escalante challenges us to answer many tough questions, some of which include:

✔ What’s the best way to protect the cultural and biological resources in the national conservation area? 

✔ How do land managers protect ranching and other historical uses?

✔ How do we balance the need for motorized trails with the need for quiet-use trails?

✔ At what point do we need a permit system for camping on the river?

✔ How do we make sure recreational shooting is done in a safe and responsible manner?

The benefit of Dominguez-Escalante and other national conservation areas is that they retain the multiple-use nature of these places while permanently protecting their wild nature and other resources. These public lands also stimulate local economies through recreational tourism and scientific research, while adding value to businesses and individuals considering a move to the region.

Most of us have noticed a dramatic increase in visitation on our public lands over the past 10 years, with obvious visual changes and added pressures. The national conservation area model is a chance for us to plan carefully with the BLM, preserving what we love for many years to come.

Search ‘BLM Dominguez Plan’ online to learn more about the plan or to conmment you may contact the BLM in Grand Junction by phone at 970-244-3000.

Joe Neuhof is Executive Director at Colorado Canyons Association and an appointed member of the Dominguez-Escalante NCA Advisory Council.


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