Pitkin County gives input on BLM plan
December 3, 2011
ASPEN – Anyone who mountain bikes on The Crown, hikes on Light Hill or wants the Thompson Creek area off-limits to oil and gas extraction might want to pay attention to a comprehensive management plan for 505,000 acres of public land in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.
But, few citizens are likely to read the draft Resource Management Plan that will guide uses on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management for years to come. The plan, attachments and a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) fill several thick volumes.
Pitkin County staffers have been analyzing elements of the plan, though, in order to draft the county’s input on the proposals. County commissioners will review the draft comments on Tuesday in Aspen. On Thursday, the county will host a public meeting on the plan at the El Jebel Community Center, starting at 6:30 p.m.
The public can find the plan at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/land_use_planning/rmp/kfo-gsfo/crv.html. The county’s draft comments are available at http://www.aspenpitkin.com – go to Board of County Commissioners under County Departments and call up the materials for the Tuesday, Dec. 6 work session.
In its entirety, the plan covers 505,000 surface acres and 707,000 acres of subsurface minerals administered 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 is focusing its input, the BLM manages 27,490 acres of surface and minerals, and another 19,537 acres of minerals under private land.
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Comments on the draft plan had been due by Dec. 15, at the end of a 90-day period that the county and other agencies complained was too short. On Friday, the BLM announced the deadline has been extended to Jan. 17 to give the public more time to review the complex plan.
The draft plan analyzes four alternatives covering all aspects of BLM land and mineral management within the Colorado River Valley boundaries, including recreation, travel management, energy development, resource protection, wildlife habitat, special designations, grazing and realty actions.
Alternative A is the no-action option, continuing the current management; Alternative B has been identified as the preferred alternative, representing a mix of conservation and resource use; Alternative C emphasizes conservation; and Alternative D is the most lenient from a development perspective, emphasizing resource use to benefit social and economic outcomes, says the BLM.
The county had a role in drafting Alternative C, according to Cindy Houben, community development director.
“It’s the one we most agree with,” she said.
The county, in its comments, supports the designation of a Recreation Management Area for 9,100 acres on The Crown, a popular area for mountain biking and other uses at the base of Mount Sopris, west of El Jebel. The county supports the separation of motorized and nonmotorized uses on the Crown Ridge.
According to the BLM, Alternative B includes zones for motorized travel and mountain biking on The Crown. The area would be managed primarily for mountain biking under Alternative D. Alternative C wouldn’t focus on specific recreation, but would provide for a variety of opportunities.
On Light Hill in the midvalley, increasing recreation in an area that is also important wildlife habitat makes it a candidate for designation as a Recreation Management Area, as well, according to the county’s draft comments.
The county supports Alternative C for Thompson Creek, limiting the ability for surface occupancy for oil and gas pads, preventing new rock-climbing routes and limiting the number of climbers per day.
According to the BLM, Alternative A closes 960 acres in Thompson Creek to oil/gas leasing, Alternative B sets aside 3,400 acres in an Area of Critical Concern, and Alternative C would manage 8,100 acres to protect wilderness characteristics.
Overall, Alternative C would manage 47,000 acres to maintain wilderness characteristics, including the 8,100 acres in Thompson Creek. Trails in areas maintained for wilderness would be open to foot and horse travel, but not mountain biking.
With regard to oil/gas development, the county helped finance an air-quality analysis that concludes the BLM plan doesn’t adequately address air-quality impacts as required under federal law.
In addition, the county notes, the plan doesn’t address mineral extraction on private land protected by county conservation easements. The county opposes mineral development on county-owned lands for which the BLM holds the mineral rights.
The county comments also delve into the disposal of BLM lands, calling for properties to first be made available to other public entities.
“We’re concerned about the BLM’s retention of public land in general,” said Dale Will, county Open Space and Trails director. “If they feel the need to unload public land, they should give a right of first refusal to the public.”