Valley with a plan: Plenty of discussion about plan for valley development

PHOTO by Bill Haggerty — Overlooking Mount Garfield during a November flight with EcoFlight of Aspen. It’s only one stretch of magnificent property included in the BLM’s Regional Management Plan for the 1 million acres it manages in the Grand Junction Field Office.



PHOTO by Bill Haggerty — Overlooking the town of Gateway and the Palisade during a November flight with EcoFlight of Aspen. It’s only one stretch of magnificent property included in the BLM’s Regional Management Plan for the 1 million acres it manages in the Grand Junction Field Office.



PHOTO by Bill Haggerty — overlooking Gateway and the North Dolores River Drainage during a November flight with EcoFlight of Aspen. It will be included in the 1 million acre Regional Management Plan (RMP) draft, which is under review until June 24.



PHOTO by Bill Haggerty — This is the North Dolores River Drainage, looking toward Gateway about mid-photo.  It’s only one stretch of magnificent property included in the BLM’s Regional Management Plan for the 1 million acres it manages in the Grand Junction Field Office.



Sent as BILL HAGGERTY MUG



Does hearing the term “Regional Management Plan” make you sleepy? 

How many trees does it take to write an RMP?

If you’re young enough and smart enough, can you read an entire RMP before the next one is written in 20 to 25 years?

The Grand Junction Bureau of Land Management office recently issued its draft RMP and accompanying draft Environmental Impact Statement for the 1 million acres of BLM property surrounding our Grand Valley. It’s available for public review and comment until June 24.

Planning Issues for the BLM’s Grand Junction Resource Area were identified through a public scoping process in 2008 and 2009.

“A planning issue,” according to the BLM, “is a dispute over resource management activities or land use that is well-defined and entails alternatives among which to choose.”

Disputes over “resource management activities or land use ...” just like the first range war between cattlemen and sheepherders in this country…. just like the railroad as it expanded westward 150 years ago. 

The BLM identified a few different management alternatives to help guide land use on our wonderful public lands for the next quarter-century. It has also done an excellent job of identifying the major “planning issues,” including: 

■ Travel Management — How will motorized, nonmotorized and mechanized travel be managed to provide commodity, amenity and recreation opportunities, reduce user conflicts, enforce route designations and closures, reduce fragmentation and habitat degradation and protect natural and cultural resources?

■ Energy Development — Which areas should be open to oil and gas leasing, coal mining and uranium development, and what restrictions should be employed to protect natural and cultural resources and minimize user conflicts?

■ Recreation Management — How will recreation be managed to provide for a variety of recreational activities, while protecting natural and cultural resources, minimizing user conflicts and providing socioeconomic benefits to local communities?

■ Lands and Realty/Community Growth and Expansion — What opportunities exist to make adjustments to public land ownership that would increase the benefit to the public, local communities and natural resources, while working toward BLM management goals? Should the BLM designate areas to accommodate major Right Of Way corridors across the planning area, and are there areas that should be avoided or excluded from Rights of Way?

■ Wildlife and Fish — How will land uses be managed to maintain and improve terrestrial and aquatic habitats? How will the BLM manage the public lands to provide for the needs of fish and wildlife species?

“They’re all big issues,” BLM plan coordinator Collin Ewing said, “although I’d agree that travel issues are dominating the discussion up to this point.”

The BLM spent years talking to local landowners, recreationists, industry representatives, wildlife managers and others. Since the release of the RMP, the BLM held five open houses and garnered hundreds of comments. 

Yet, that travel management “issue” has received the most comments, has been the most misunderstood and has prompted the BLM to host another public meeting “to facilitate a public discussion” on travel management issues of common interest.

There’s a long way to go in this process. After the comment period ends, the draft will be reworked into a “proposed” RMP. That won’t happen until sometime in 2014.

After the release of that “proposed” RMP and “proposed” Environmental Impact Statement, there will be an official “protest period” for more public input. Only then will a final decision be made.

Apparently, the protest period came a little early as a handful of folks with signs recently shared their displeasure with “alternatives” in front of the BLM office. Some alternatives may include future road closures. Of course, that action couldn’t possibly happen until a year or two after the final decision is made.

In other words, I’ll be old and gray. Oh, I’m already old and gray.

Despite early protestations, some groups are working together to discuss issues of common interest.

“Coming together and talking helps the BLM develop a much better plan,” Ewing said. 

In a spirit of cooperation rarely seen by politicians these days, Barbara Hawke, the local representative of The Wilderness Society said recently, “why not manage for wilderness characteristics but keep historical roads open?”

She was speaking specifically of management alternatives in areas along the North Dolores River corridor. Many within the motorized community, such as Grand Mesa Jeep Club President Jerry Smith, calmly discussed backcountry road issues with resource personnel and folks like Hawke and Kate Graham of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Smith concurs: “I’m not froggy about jumping all over some of those roads. It’s just inappropriate due to terrain or whatever.  But there are many roads in this (resource) area that provide a quality recreational experience for motorized as well as nonmotorized traffic.”

Coexistence between jeepers and other backcountry users? What next? Cows mingling with sheep? Coyotes adopting poodles from Roice Hurst Humane Society?

I was lucky enough to hop a ride with EcoFlight and Captain Bruce Gordon from Aspen, to view the management area from the air a few months ago. This entire resource area is nothing less than spectacular.

There are certainly areas of critical environmental concern, as Hawke pointed out. I saw some amazing terrain that deserves our strongest protection. Yet there are areas where energy development already is occurring, and that’s appropriate, as well as large swaths of public property where vehicular travel is appropriate.

“Areas should not be excluded from wilderness management on the basis of a bisecting or adjacent motorized route,” Graham said. “On the contrary, the backcountry experiences enjoyed by jeepers, mountain bikers and others while traversing these backcountry routes is justification enough for wilderness management alongside the trail. We all deserve to have our wild experiences maintained.”

Of course, maybe not in the middle of an elk calving area. Nonetheless, Smith echoed those sentiments.

“This is big country, whether you’re in a jeep, on foot, on a bike or on a horse,” he said. “If you can’t find a place for your own ‘quiet,’ you’re not looking very hard.”

Before compiling your own comments on this important plan, get outside. Remember why we live here, and remember this drop-dead-beautiful environment depends on fragile soils, scarce rain, and rare and wild creatures. 

Thoughtful planning and strong conservation management will maintain these unique resources for our long-term use and enjoyment.


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