Pitkin County comments on the proposed Sutey land exchange
Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday voted to direct Board of County Commissioners Chairman Michael Owsley to sign this letter outlining the county’s comments on the proposed Sutey Ranch-BLM land exchange. Commissioner Jack Hatfield dissented.The letter:To: Mr. Steve Bennett, field manager, Colorado River Valley Field Office, Bureau of Land ManagementFederal public lands, comprising some 83 percent of Pitkin County, are one of the strong underpinnings of our local economy. They create a mosaic of extraordinary scenery, habitat, recreation, clean air, water and natural resources that sustains our recreation, tourist based economy, and is of immeasurable value to the health, welfare and enjoyment of Pitkin County residents and visitors. While public access to Pitkin County’s Federal public lands is of immeasurable value to our residents and visitors, at least 53 percent or more of our local resort, recreational, tourist economy is heavily dependent upon active and passive recreational use of local, state and federal public lands. Any loss of these Federal public lands or of public access thereto is a serious concern for Pitkin County, representing the loss of a resource that is irreplaceable.Privatization of public land conflicts with the goals, economic health and needs of our community. Disposal of public land by way of exchange should only be condoned as a last resort, after careful circumspection of all alternatives to preserve public land and after there is a determination that there is no recognizable use or need in the future for the public land that is to be lost.Consider Future Demand – The Colorado Department of Local Affairs forecasts continued population growth for the Roaring Fork Valley. With that growth will be increased demand for public land and increased demands upon existing public lands for a variety of recreational and economic needs. Consequently, analysis of the Sutey Land Exchange must consider the anticipated level of future demand upon public lands, and the consequences of loss of existing resources to the citizens and visitors of our valley. The explosion in demand for all forms of recreational opportunities on the Crown Mountain Property in the mid-valley, is an example of how increasing recreational demand may lead to a reduction in both resource quality and the quality of experience for users. This furthers the argument for maintaining existing public lands that may function as relief valves for areas that receive extensive use, particularly within close proximity to residential communities rather than disposing of them by way of exchange.Cooperative Management of Federal and Local Public Lands – Since its inception in 1990, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program has invested more than $82 million to secure over 18,700 acres of conserved private lands for the benefit of Pitkin County’s residents and visitors. Where local and federal public lands abut, we support a coordinated approach to management of resources as a means of sustaining a quality, seamless experience for those accessing and using the land. To that end, the County has attempted to purchase property interests that would provide access to, and linkages between local, State and Federal public lands within the region. Such coordination is intended to accommodate a range of activities, including motorized recreation, mountain biking, hunting, preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat and the preservation of quiet and undisturbed public lands. Ultimately, loss of Federal public land, including the Sutey Exchange parcel, may undermine the value of the County’s ongoing investment in its Open Space and Trails Program.Specific Recommendations – Disposal of BLM lands by way of exchange to private entities should be considered only where such lands do not contribute to the resource values we strive to protect: wildlife, scenery, agriculture, and recreation. Regarding the Sutey Land Exchange, in addition to comments in previous paragraphs, we recommend the following full analyses and disclosure as a means of ensuring the continued management of lands for public benefit:1. Extend the comment period to allow the public to become familiarized with the land to be traded. As the BLM web page regarding the Sutey Land Exchange notes, “Public comment is a critical piece of evaluating whether the exchange is a benefit to the public.” Given the complexity and scale of the proposed exchange, we believe more time is necessary for the public to come up to speed and provide meaningful input. Furthermore, we have learned that the email contact information presented to the public has been inoperative, and citizens have reported to us that they were unable to successfully submit comments. The significance of this flaw cannot be understated, and certainly warrants not only an extension of the comment period, but renewed outreach to ensure that the public has accurate facts regarding submittal contact information.2. In order to adequately inform the public so that comments regarding disposal of public land by way of exchange may be based upon facts to the greatest extent possible – please develop, analyze and make available a complete baseline survey/inventory of current resource conditions on the BLM lands proposed for exchange. At a minimum, develop and disclose data regarding the following resources:a. habitat science;b. grazing history;c. hunting quality;d. existing trails including trails on properties to be traded, and trails that access the exchange property from adjacent public land; e. mineral rights; andf. water rights/quality including Thomas Creek and Potato Bill CreekDescriptive information provided by the BLM to date regarding these resources is not adequate to reasonably inform the public.3. Defer further action until the adoption of the Resource Management Plan. [The BLM has told Pitkin County that no actions will be taken on other administrative decisions, such as any new trail connections on Light Hill, until the RMP is done; why grant a special exception for such a large land transfer?] Completion of the RMP would allow the BLM a better gauge of the future needs for grazing, hunting, and recreational resources by the public overall, and the impact of the exchange on those values.4. Consider impacts of the proposed public land disposal by way of exchange in the context of the projected need for public land for hunting and other forms of recreation into the future, (given Department of Local Affairs projections for an increasing population in the Roaring Fork Valley) as well as increased demand on other public land as a result of the proposed exchange.5. As required by BLM regulations, fully consider the reservation of public rights in the BLM parcels including grazing, hunting and other recreation. Two Shoes negotiated the attached side agreement with the Prince Creek Homeowners allowing continuing access. We don’t believe that this reservation of recreational access should be limited to a discreet group, but should be available to the general public.6. Given the complexity of this decision, we believe a full Environmental Impact Statement will be needed to adequately evaluate the alternatives and impacts of the proposed action7. In order to adequately analyze reasonable alternatives to the proposed exchange, complete and/or disclose formal consultations with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/White River National Forest regarding the possible USFS administration of some or all of the Pitkin County BLM parcels. The BLM and USFS share over one mile of common boundary at the foot of Mount Sopris, one of the most scenic locations in Pitkin County.8. In order to adequately analyze reasonable alternatives to the proposed exchange, analyze and disclose the following information as it relates to public benefit:a. The potential feasibility and benefit of acquisition of the Sutey Ranch parcel by public interests other than BLM;b. Alternatives for protection and management of resources on the subject properties to gain the same benefits;9. Fully consider environmental impact that is likely to result from the BLM’s loss of ability to regulate grazing. On April 3, 2012 the BLM limited grazing on the Thomas permit, to regulate grazing. On April 3, 2012 the BLM limited grazing on the Thomas permit, reducing the season from nearly three months to only thirteen days (5/16-7/10 and 10/10-11/10 to 6/13-6/27) and reduced AUMs by 29%. Several other conditions were placed on the permit, including ongoing measurement of new growth on grasses prior to annual stocking and maintenance of range improvements.) See EA Number DOI-BLM-CO-040-2012-0014 We do understand that if privatized, the lands now subject to these federal grazing restrictions will become subject to a conservation easement held by the a private land conservation organization. However, to date, although a draft of this document is apparently being circulated between the Wexners, the BLM, and the private land conservation organization, it has not been made available to the public notwithstanding a request for the same made by Dale Will at the BLM meeting in Carbondale on June 1, 2012. In our experience, conservation easements offer significantly less opportunity for effective range management than would continued public administration and oversight (See See EA Number DOI-BLM-CO-040-2012-0014). While we believe conservation easements work well to prevent residential development, they cannot replace the BLM’s policies, regulations, and expertise in regard to the adaptive grazing monitoring and regulation presently in place. Conservation Easements generally rely on a single annual visit whereas the current permit relies on continuous oversight. For a general sense of conservation easements as grazing management tools, the book “Saving the Ranch” is instructive, and provides a Q & A as follows “Will the easement interfere with ranch management? Won’t the land trust become a nuisance in day to day ranch management? A: If you donate an easement to a group you know and trust, such nuisances will not occur. Easement holders have a responsibility to visit the property at least once a year to assure that houses have not been built where you promised they wouldn’t be built. Ranch conservation easements essentially leave grazing, fencing, irrigation, and weed and predator control up to the landowner.” See “Saving the Ranch; Conservation Easement Design in the American West” 2004 Anthony Anella and John B. Wright. A conservation easement creates a permanent division of rights, and is therefore not well suited to the “adaptive management” prescribed by the current permit, where the BLM has the right to modify or discontinue agricultural uses if the monitoring indicates. Therefore, significant environmental impacts are likely to result from the elimination of BLM oversight of grazing on the subject lands and the substitution of a conservation easement. This impact should be fully evaluated in an Environmental Impact Report.10. Ensure that appraisals utilize multiple techniques to fully consider the value of the lands included in the exchange, including but not limited to the assemblage value of the BLM lands to the exchange proponent. As documented in appraisal literature, Trophy Ranch appraisals require specialized expertise and review. See, e.g. Trophy Property Valuation; A Ranch Case Study, (2003) by Bill Mundy (enclosed).11. Allow a public review of all appraisals prior to final action on the proposed exchange.12. If it is ultimately determined that there is an overriding public benefit to conveyance of the land, we recommend that the land first be offered to all other public agencies through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act (R&PP), or for sale at fair market value if R&PP is not applicable, or for land exchange amongst public agencies to consolidate administration. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails stresses the benefits of coordinated efforts between public agencies and/or conservation organizations to acquire and preserve available private lands that abut public lands to protect wildlife habitat and create access for public enjoyment. Pitkin County has worked effectively with federal agencies in the past to complete land exchanges that protect the public benefit of those lands, or, in some cases, to meet other public needs, such as infrastructure.13. Potential benefits of land exchanges should be measured locally, so that lands of benefit to Pitkin County are not depleted for outside objectives. As the proposed conveyance of public property is within Pitkin County, include and disclose analysis to determine that there is no net loss of cumulative public benefit or public access for the citizens of Pitkin County.14. Any exchange should acknowledge that Pitkin County does not recognize a development right for lands leaving public ownership.15. Consider alternative actions for preserving the properties in the exchange and maintaining their availability to the public other than the proposed conveyance – such as acquisition of the Sutey Ranch by a public entity.16. Identify the problems with maintaining public ownership of the BLM parcel adjacent to Two Shoes Ranch that would not be present for public ownership of Sutey Ranch.17. We are informed that much of the analysis needed to evaluate the exchange is being funded privately by the exchange proponent, and we therefore request the BLM include public review that is adequate to ensure the adequacy and independence of supporting analysis, including but not limited to appraisals, ecological assessments, cultural assessments, and the like.18. Provide for public review all boundary survey information held by the BLM.19. Provide for public review of all water rights analysis completed to date.20. Provide for public review information regarding the history of public stock ways as provided in the 1916 Grazing Act, on any of the BLM disposal by way of exchange parcels.Thank you for considering our comments as part of your administrative review of the proposed Sutey Land Exchange.Regards,Michael M. OwsleyChair,Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners
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