The Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office is seeking public comment on a draft management plan for 658,000 acres of public lands in Eastern Colorado, including land along the Arkansas River.
Once completed, the plan will inform the use of BLM lands, to include livestock grazing, wildlife, road building, recreation areas, conservation areas, water, and oil and gas development.
As is typical for this kind of process, several drafted alternatives are being considered. One "no change" option would continue management as currently enforced, another would favor ecosystem function, a third would favor access to energy development and infrastructure, and a final "preferred alternative," blends the second and third options.
Some wildlife conservationists contest the fairness of that blend, suggesting that the preferred alternative would significantly cut back wildlife protections. John Sztukowski from the advocacy group Wild Connections says the current draft moves away from the priorities drawn up in the more preliminary stages of the process.
"We basically know that– especially on record in 2017—that [the preferred alternative] had more conservation designations in it," he says. "There's plenty of comments supporting areas of critical environmental concern with wilderness characteristics, yet somehow instead of adding more they subtracted way [more] than they had three years ago."
In comparison with what's currently in place, the preferred alternative in the draft would lessen the acreage labeled "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern," as well as lessen certain restrictions on mineral and energy development, among other changes. That's also in contrast to the Bureau's preferred option in a preliminary 2017 report, which leaned toward more environmental protections, as Sztukowski points out.
"The trend right now is just that our public lands are potentially for sale to the highest bidder or special interests and a lapse in protection leaves these areas vulnerable to more development," says Sztukowski.
Brant Porter is with the Public Affairs office at the Royal Gorge BLM. He says the way the preferred alternative will look going forward is still largely dependent on the 90-day public input period.
"Don't get caught up in the preferred alternative because really it's the range of alternatives that are presented," he says. "If there's any perceptions that the balance is off or any of those sorts of things, then having that input is going to pull those pieces from [other alternatives] or completely shift the focus if need be to a different approach for a specific issue."
Both local stakeholders and BLM approval at the national level help shape the drafting process, according to Porter.
The 90-day public input period ends September 20th. For more information regarding the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, residents are encouraged to attend July public meetings or use the online story map, which breaks down elements in each alternative. Input can be submitted online or mailed to the bureau.
Afterwards, a finalized version of the plan will be presented, with more opportunities for feedback.
- Salida - SteamPlant Event Center, July 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
- Canon City - The Abbey Event Center, July 9, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
- Fairplay - Foss Smith Multipurpose Room, July 11, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
- Walsenberg - Washington School, Auditorium, July 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
- Colorado Springs - Westside Community Center, July 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m.