Our local Royal Gorge Field office happens to be located in Cañon City, but they manage 35 million acres of land across 37 counties in Colorado, from west of the front range, to the Wyoming and New Mexico borders. It’s a LOT.
So when someone comes to the BLM and says “Hey, I want to use that 100 acres out yonder to build a mine / mountain bike track / hunting area / amusement park”, the BLM has to figure out if said proposal will be appropriate for that land. To do this, they use what’s called a Resource Management Plan (RMP). It’s a big document that includes lots of studies about all areas within Eastern Colorado, to include plants, animals, geology, archaeology, water rights, historic land uses, etc. The last RMP was finished in 1996, and they’ve been using it ever since to make decisions about things like recreational uses and Oil & Gas Lease Sales. (We learned about those here.) But times and communities change, and it’s not in the best interest of the land to continue to use a 20 year-old document to make informed, current decisions. So, they’ve drafted a new RMP, and it’s out for our review.
The Royal Gorge Field office (RGFO) began this process in 2015 with studies, community meetings, etc. If you missed those, you’re not alone. Earlier this year, the RGFO sent their draft over to Washington DC to the National BLM office, and they sent it back with 4 ‘Alternatives’ – A, B, C, and D. Alternative A is essentially what we have now – no changes. Alternative B favors conservation. Alternative C tends to leave just about everything open to everything with no priority given to recreation or conservation. And then there’s Alternative D.
Alternative D is called the ‘Human Ecoregion’ Alternative, and essentially tries to take into consideration the VAST differences between say, the eastern plains and the Royal Gorge Region. In the plains, they’re cool with lots of extraction because there’s a ton of open land. Out here in Cañon City, we have a blossoming recreation culture that is reflected in how they’ve addressed this area.
One of the things that you’ll read about in articles like this one is that much of the land that was originally (in the 2017 draft that was sent to Washington) slated to be designated as “wilderness quality” were severely decreased. Why is this important? When lands don’t have ‘Lands with Wilderness Characteristics’ (LCW) designation, they are susceptible to being opened up for things like Oil & Gas Lease Sales. (These then allow for exploration and extraction processes.)
What does that mean?
Well, a few months ago we asked you to comment on a public Oil & Gas Lease sale for lands near Dawson Ranch. Unfortunately, the BLM was using the old RMP, which doesn’t include Dawson Ranch, South Cañon Trails, or any of the recent developments in our area. They couldn’t take those things into consideration because they didn’t exist in the RMP. BUT NOW THEY CAN. But we need to voice our concern that these designations DON’T EXIST IN ALL ALTERNATIVES.
Here’s what concerns us:
Alternative D creates special Recreation Management Zones for most of our new trail systems in the area. That’s good because it essentially puts recreation as a priority on those areas. That’s not to say that they can’t be used for other things (because BLM lands are multi-use – they need to serve many functions / user groups at a time), but recreation will be given priority in any user conflict. It makes us a little nervous that these areas are included in Alternative D, but not in some of the others. See the difference here:
As one of the main stakeholders in trail systems in the area, we at Fremont Adventure Recreation have put a significant amount of time, money, resources, and volunteer hours into making certain that the South Cañon Trail System, Oil Well Flats Trail System, and Royal Gorge Trail System (adjacent to BLM South Rim property) have become community assets. We would like to see these included in ALL alternatives as SRMAs and / or special RMZs.
We appreciate the new inclusion of the Royal Gorge and South Cañon Trails systems in the Special Recreation Management Areas. We would like to voice our support for the inclusion of these areas in all / the selected alternative(s). The Royal Gorge land is adjacent to an established system of trails that is not only community funded, but also community maintained. Prioritizing recreation in this area would allow the continued development of existing recreation opportunities for our community. Similarly, the continued designation of the surrounding areas (including Temple Canyon and Grape Creek) as Wilderness Study Areas would preserve the scenic qualities of the viewshed and also wildlife habitat.
In the case of these areas, please be sure that only quiet-use recreation is allowed (with the exception of lower Oil Well Flats, which has traditionally allowed motorized traffic traffic on double-track roads but not on singletrack trails. We fully support this multi-use agreement). The mileage of these community-supported trail systems does not support a motorized population and the degradation to trails caused by OHV use would be detrimental.
South Cañon Trails are located adjacent to the Dawson Ranch housing area, and the introduction of motorized use would threaten the peaceful quality of their investment. Quiet recreation allows for an appropriate balance of recreation and continued wildlife viewing / use.
Here’s what concerns us:
When the 2015 draft (which our local field office – including people who live, work, and play here - created) went to Washington, it included over 189,981 acres of protected land – given stricter regulations for things like mineral extraction. These areas were called ‘Lands with Wilderness Characteristics’, which means that they a.) must be over 5,000 acres in size, b.) must exhibit a high degree of naturalness, c.) outstanding opportunities for solitude, or primitive and unconfined types of recreation when the sights, sounds, and evidence of other people are rare or infrequent, and / or d.) ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value (from BLM Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, Volume 4, B-311).
In the new plan, that number has dwindled to very little, and none in the some of the important areas closest to us in Cañon City. There are a few areas that we’d like to see keep those special designations so that they are protected to the fullest extent possible. Those areas include Grape Creek and the Arkansas River, among others. Note that, by definition, LWC's cannot have development of nearly any kind, including trails. As we push forward with mineral extraction, development, and recreation, (thereby impacting wildlife habitat) it IS IMPORTANT to keep some places wild. These are some of the most scenic in Colorado, and we prefer to keep them that way.
Here’s what we’re writing about these areas:
The Arkansas River has long been a recreational playground in the Cañon City area. Despite historic abuses that include riverbank strengthening with unnatural materials and the littering of construction and pipeline refuse – reclamation of this area has been ongoing, and the river corridor has never looked better. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country come to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area to recreate, enjoy the incredible scenery, and watch wildlife in their natural habitat. As an organization invested in the continued protection of all areas, but specifically recreation areas, we’d like to see these areas protected. “Areas of special designation require extra attention to protect exceptional resource values such as historic, cultural or scenic values, or there may be sensitive, threatened, or endangered species living there. Areas of special designation are designated either congressionally or administratively” (BLM Draft Eastern Colorado RMP Story Map). We believe the following areas within Fremont County qualify for these designations.
We would like to see the areas Echo Canyon, Badger Creek (North & South), North of Coaldale, Bear Mountain, Eightmile Mountain, Red Canyon, Cooper Mountain, and Cucharas Canyon to remain closed to all oil and gas lease sales. These should be considered as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC’s), given their incredible fish habitat, unmatched scenic value, and susceptibility to watershed pollution. Additionally, these areas include an incredible array of geological formations that should be protected and preserved. We strongly support the plan set forth in Alternative B, to include ALL of the areas labeled, especially with regard to Echo Canyon, Waugh Mountain, North Badger Creek, Badger Creek, Eightmile Mountain, Cooper Mountain, Upper Red Canyon, and Turkey Canyon.
The Wild & Scenic River designation of the Arkansas River stretching from Buena Vista to Cañon City (in all Alternatives) would be well served to include the areas surrounding the river as LWC’s, to include the larger geographic area that is outlined in Alternative A. Those who use this river to seek an un unobstructed foray into nature and its majesty would not be pleased with added traffic, decreased wildlife sightings, and potential inroads to mining or extraction facilities.
Additionally, Grape Creek is a pristine wilderness area that should remain so. As they are currently designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, we would like to see them given the utmost protection from potential development by either continuing this designation or as a WSA. Alternatively, section 1,2, and 3 of this area fulfill the requirements for a Wild and Scenic River (as denoted in Alternative B), and should be designated as such. This area is a tributary of the Arkansas River and every effort should be made to safeguard its pristine water quality, viewshed, and wilderness characteristics. As part of a contiguous large area of BLM-managed lands, it should remain a Wilderness Study Area in order to preserve the If not designated as a WSA, it should be considered for the Backcountry Conservation Area, as the area is a recognized fishing area that is valued by our community. The health of that particular waterway directly effects the health of the Arkansas River also.
https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage¤tPageId=53991 (Incidentally, this is also where you can add electronic comments. You can also send them in – the address is listed at the bottom of this article.)
We’ve placed a reference copy at the Cañon City public library if you’re interested in reading the whole thing. If not, you can view the online version here.
Draft a letter and submit it via mail or email.
Why? Because YOUR VOICE carries JUST AS MUCH WEIGHT as a group, organization, or business. Each comment is considered to the same extent as anther, and a specific, educated comment is better than a comment that simply says, “I don’t like this”. Please find our below letter and FEEL FREE to use some of what we’ve learned / said to create comments of your own. It’s not a great idea to copy and paste, but voice your concerns if they echo ours.
[Why the area is important to you]
[What you’d like to see changed / altered.]
[Add any additional comments or thank them for their work.]
Click on this link and hit the 'Comment on Document' Button to the right of the document.
Eastern Colorado RMP/EIS
BLM Royal Gorge Field Office
3028 E. Main Street
Cañon City, CO 81212