BLM extends its comment period | AspenTimes.com

BLM extends its comment period

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

SILT, Colo. – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has extended the public comment period again on its draft Colorado River Valley Resource Management Plan, a document that has generated debate over proposed winter closures on some parcels in Pitkin County.

The complexity and sheer size of the plan, which will guide future management decisions on 505,000 surface acres and 707,000 acres of subsurface minerals managed by the BLM field office in Silt, prompted calls for a second extension of the comment period.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and several Colorado congressmen – U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton – all requested the latest extension, according to the BLM. The comment period, which was to end Tuesday, will now run through Feb. 29.

“We appreciate that this draft plan is large and complex,” said Karl Mendonca, acting Colorado River Valley field manager, in a prepared statement. “We believe that extending the deadline through the end of February should give everyone enough time to review the document and provide detailed comments.”

Already, the BLM has received some 20,000 comments on the plan, according to BLM spokesman David Boyd. They range from detailed input to email form letters.

“Clearly, there were still a number of people who were asking for more time,” he said.

The draft plan was initially released for a 90-day public comment period on Sept. 15. In early December, the BLM extended the comment period an additional 32 days. With the additional extension announced this week, the public comment period will total 165 days.

The proposed plan analyzes four alternatives covering all aspects of BLM land and mineral management within the Colorado River Valley boundaries – an area that encompasses Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. It addresses recreation, travel management, energy development, resource protection, wildlife habitat, special designations, grazing and disposal of property. The existing plan was adopted in 1984; it has been amended on various occasions, but hasn’t been rewritten since then.

Comments have come from governments, including counties and municipalities; agencies such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, conservation and user groups, and individuals. Travel management issues are the focus for many who take the time to comment, according to Boyd.

“That’s one of the biggest things we hear – what roads are open, what trails are open, what users they’re open to, when they’re open,” he said.

Much of the public attention the BLM plan has received locally has centered on such access issues – specifically winter closures suggested for some parcels by Pitkin County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The county and wildlife officials have recommended a full winter closure, from Dec. 1 through April 30, on the top of Light Hill, Arbaney Mesa, Williams Hill and on 9,000 acres of the Crown – all BLM lands in the midvalley. The Arbaney-Kittle Trail would remain open to the overlook, and Light Hill wintertime access would be maintained to the top of the ridge from the Gateway subdivision and East Sopris Creek Road.

The BLM, however, does not envision a full winter closure – meaning no human access – in any of its four alternatives, Boyd noted.

“It’s outside of the range of alternatives we analyzed,” he said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean such closures can’t be considered, Boyd added, but further analysis may be necessary.

A wintertime closure on motorized uses already exists on the Crown, Light Hill, Williams Hill and in the Thompson Creek area, Boyd said. Some alternatives in the plan would close those areas to mechanized uses (i.e. bicycles) in the winter, as well. One alternative would close a piece of west Basalt Mountain to mechanized uses in the winter. None of the BLM alternatives contemplate winter restrictions on Arbaney Mesa.

After the BLM is finished analyzing all of the comments it receives, it will release a single proposed alternative that is likely to be a blend of the four options currently under review, Boyd said. That step was to occur this year, but the two extensions of the comment period may push the process back, he said. Once a final alternative is released, there will be a 30-day protest period.

The debate over winter closures in Pitkin County has led some individuals to urge their fellow citizens to weigh in on the BLM plan.

“We do consider the number of comments we’re getting on a particular topic,” Boyd said. Go to http://www.aspentimes.com/blm to find the plan and make comments.

janet@aspentimes.com


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