Pitkin County open space board passes biodiversity policy
Members of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board heeded a torrent of recent criticism Thursday and passed a new policy emphasizing biodiversity on land the program owns.
“This is one of the most gratifying exercises I’ve done with you guys in a long time,” said Dale Will, executive director of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Program. “The outpouring of public interest is great to see.”
Assistant Director Gary Tennenbaum agreed.
“This is a policy that’s long overdue,” he said.
The “Protection of Biodiversity and the Management of Human Use” policy directs open space program officials to use science to determine which human-use restrictions best protect biodiversity on open space lands.
The building of trails on 4,748 acres of open space lands has become an issue lately, with wildlife advocates and others criticizing what they see as an emphasis on mountain biking and a lack of concern about wildlife.
County commissioner candidate Greg Poschman, who attended Thursday’s open space board meeting, has raised the issue in his campaign, saying some rural county residents have told him they don’t feel listened to by the open space program.
Another reason the issue has surfaced is the open space board’s effort to ask voters this November to reauthorize funding the program for another 20 years through a 3.75 mill levy. That levy is scheduled to expire in 2020. Board members finalized language for the ballot question Thursday.
The public was allowed to comment on the policy — an “unprecedented step” taken by the program, Will said — for 75 days, which ended July 15. Forty-seven people and organizations registered comments, while a few others made comments at Thursday’s meeting.
Some criticized mountain bikers and the “bike lobby,” including equestrians who feel trail access is decreasing for them and increasing for bikers. Others worried that open space lands aren’t closed long enough in winter and spring for wildlife needs. Still others urged the use of science to make the best determination of a particular parcel’s needs.
The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association supported the policy.
On Thursday, Will Roush, conservation director of the Wilderness Workshop, urged board members to hire an ecologist to ensure effective implementation of the policy.
Lisa Tasker, a valley resident, also urged board members Thursday to hire an ecologist. She also urged the board to postpone the reauthorization question, or at least schedule a meeting for county residents to get a good idea of the program and its goals.
Board members praised the public’s interest as well as the program’s public outreach efforts.
“I think one of the strengths of the program is the public outreach,” Board member Graeme Means said.
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