Doubts on wild lands at Club 20

A push to recognize wild lands on federal property in the West met rocky skepticism as pointed as a red-stone spire Saturday at the Club 20 spring meeting.

Only about 16 million of the 256 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management will be examined for the wilderness characteristics that are to be preserved as wild lands, said Carl Rountree, who was appointed to head the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System during the Bush administration.

“To think this project is going to make us look at the other 240 million acres we manage is just not right,” Rountree told about 130 people at Two Rivers Convention Center.

One critic, Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson, said wild lands designations could threaten private landowners.

In his case, Dickinson said, designating wild lands in the nearby Vermillion Basin could force out grazing, which would drive him out of business because he would be unable to lease federal land for grazing.

“Do you intend to run me out of business?” Dickinson asked Rountree.

Although territory recognized as wild lands could be managed to allow such things as grazing, mountain biking and other recreational uses, it contains no promises, Dickinson said.

“You say ‘may’ ” in the regulations, he said.

Any decisions, however, could be reviewed and would not be permanent in any case, Rountree said.

Wild lands designations are to be subject to review each time a resource-management plan is updated, Rountree said.

Bureau land managers will have flexibility to approve projects with “impacts” on wild lands, but projects that would “impair” them could only be allowed with approval from Washington, D.C., he said.

Although the idea of recognizing wild lands is to comply with federal land-management law and provide consistency “from one end of the West to the other,” Rountree said the policy is intended to accommodate local conditions.

“It is not going to be a cookie-cutter approach,” he said.

Rountree acknowledged the BLM would consider residents’ proposals for lands to be designated as wild and that the land would not be locked away during study, as with wilderness study areas.

“These are by no means de facto proposals,” Rountree said.

Only Congress can designate wilderness, and the Interior Department policy recognizes that, he said.

The policy introduction “was not done in the best way possible,” Pitkin County Commission Chairwoman Rachel Richards said. It did, however, “create a balance that has been missing,” she said.



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