Pitkin County calls for winter closures on BLM land | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County calls for winter closures on BLM land

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – The wintertime closure of several midvalley areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management are among the recommendations Pitkin County will forward to the agency in comments on the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan.

The county is preparing to submit comments to the BLM’s voluminous management plan by a Jan. 17 deadline. The local government will take an unusual tack in suggesting certain areas be managed with wildlife, rather than human use, as the top priority, noted Ellen Sassano, long-range planner with the Community Development Department. She and department director Cindy Houben crafted the county’s comments, seeking input from county commissioners again Tuesday.

The county will recommend that the BLM adopt a Winter Core Wildlife Area designation – something the agency does not contemplate in its draft management plan – for the Crown, Light Hill and Arbaney Mesa. The county is advocating total closure of the areas from Dec. 1 through April 30 as a benefit to winter wildlife habitat.

It’s a departure from the BLM’s approach, according to Sassano.

“Maybe recreation shouldn’t be the No. 1 priority objective, although it’s an important objective,” she said.

The Crown is a popular recreation area at the base of Mount Sopris, west of El Jebel; Light Hill stretches between Old Snowmass and Emma, west of Highway 82; and Arbaney Mesa is the area east of the overlook on the Arbaney-Kittle Trail outside of Basalt.

“The intent would be to manage with preservation of wildlife habitat and use as the main resource and focal point in areas defined as having Winter Core Wildlife characteristics,” reads the county’s comments.

“We should have winter closures up there immediately,” said Commissioner George Newman regarding Light Hill, questioning what happens in the interim while the BLM plan remains a work in progress.

The county is also recommending a wintertime closure for the Thompson Creek area outside Carbondale and Williams Hill in Old Snowmass.

In addition, the county is advocating that multiuse management plans, based on the “carrying capacity” of an area, be developed for individual BLM parcels that include the Crown, Arbaney Mesa, Williams Hill and Light Hill. These sub-plans would determine the limits on recreation and grazing uses, with preservation of habitat and ecosystems as the priority.

The BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan, which will guide use on lands it manages for years to come, is a comprehensive set of documents intended to dictate management on 505,000 acres of surface area and 707,000 acres of subsurface minerals managed by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt. The acreage includes parts of Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.

In Pitkin County, where local government has focused its input, the BLM manages 27,490 acres of surface and minerals, and another 19,537 acres of minerals under private land. The county’s comments are a distillation of input from various departments within county government and reflect consultation with area municipal governments and agencies, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Houben said.

The comments address many facets of the BLM’s draft alternatives for managing public lands, including oil and gas leasing and air-quality impacts associated with the extraction industry, monitoring the impacts of human use, dealing with illegal “bandit” trails and a process for disposing of BLM lands, for example.

Commissioner Michael Owsley questioned how effective the county’s push for such efforts as monitoring capacity and air quality will be.

“The implication is, the BLM has to staff up,” he said. “It doesn’t really mean very much unless they have the capacity to do what we’ve asked of them.”

Once the county’s comments have been finalized – commissioners tweaked the language again Tuesday – they will be posted at http://www.aspenpitkin.com under the Community Development Department link, Houben said.

The public can find the plan, and submit comments until Jan. 17 at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/land_use_planning/rmp/kfo-gsfo/crv.html.

janet@aspentimes.com


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