Ken Brenner: Protect our water, land
Do you want to protect Yampa River water to the Utah border? Do you want to preserve wilderness areas, wildlife habitat and water quantity and quality in the river? Do you want to continue to enjoy recreation in the natural setting of the Yampa River below Cross Mountain?
I want to encourage you to participate in a public meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the Steamboat Springs Community Center to give input to the Little Snake Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management for a new Resource Management Plan. The plan was last updated in 1989, and it will be 15 to 20 years until your next chance.
The BLM manages 1.3 million surface acres and 1.1 million subsurface acres in Northwest Colorado. Over the last three years, the BLM has worked with cooperating agencies and members of the agricultural, mining, oil and gas, local government and environmental communities to develop this draft management plan. The input has varied in direction – that’s why there are alternatives. Now it is your turn to give input.
In the preferred alternative, all but about 160,000 acres are available for mineral extraction and another 200,000 acres have “no surface occupancy” restrictions. There are three areas I hope you consider making comments. After all, these are public lands. Those areas are: lands with wilderness characteristics, effects on wildlife habitat from energy extraction and possible federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the Yampa River.
Northwest Colorado has some of the most beautiful wild country, and we need to actively protect it for future generations. The BLM preferred alternative recognizes about 77,000 acres in the Vermillion Basin with wilderness characteristics and another 99,000 acres in the Dinosaur, Cold Springs and little Yampa Canyon areas. Your input to protect these areas is needed.
There are areas in the plan that contain pristine wildlife habitat in the form of a sensitive sagebrush ecosystem that could see 3,000 oil and gas wells. Whether you are a big game hunter or anxious to protect sage grouse habitat for this part of Colorado, the sagebrush ecosystem will be affected by oil and gas development. What we will see is fragmentation of the habitat by the maze of roads and disturbances by the many vehicles needed to drill and service the wells. Both the $2 billion hunting industry and wildlife habitat will be affected.
Our most important opportunity is to recommend a federal designation and congressional approval of a Wild and Scenic River Designation. The BLM cannot designate a Wild and Scenic River, but the plan does determine which streams would be eligible and suitable for congressional designation. To be eligible, the river must be substantially free flowing, demonstrate normal diurnal hydrographic fluctuations (spring floods) and have “outstandingly remarkable value.” Three segments of the Yampa River are eligible and make up about 20 miles of river reach. The BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement could designate them suitable for approval by Congress.
With congressional approval, the Yampa River would have junior water rights to protect its recreation, wildlife and riparian value. It would also help to keep Yampa River water in the Yampa River, a favorite theme of mine and many of you.
Please take time out from your busy work and recreation schedules and participate in the final draft of this important document. It is not only your right but also your responsibility.
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Work to form a new strategic plan for the Steamboat Springs School District will start next week with the first sessions of a listening tour aimed at getting broad community feedback.