Letters | SteamboatToday.com



It always amazes me that liberals can’t seem to engage in a debate without resorting to personal attacks (i.e. Bill and Hillary). While I’m a lawyer, I don’t practice in the area of federal land management and am involved only as a concerned citizen and a lover of the outdoors. If I made any technical errors in my first letter (Nov. 9, 2001), I believe the substance of my comment rings true.

To avoid further attacks from Mr. Kolbenschlag (Nov. 30, 2001), I’ll respond to his remarks by relying solely on the “Conservationists Wilderness Proposal For BLM Lands,” published by the Colorado Environmental Coalition in 1994. This document was the CEC’s privately conceived proposal to designate 1.3 million acres of public lands as wilderness in contrast to the BLM’s recommendation to designate 388,500 acres.

Mr. Kolbenschlag seems to argue that wilderness areas are true to the multiple-use concept of federal land management. Yet the CEC states: “Activities deemed incompatible with the purposes of wilderness include mining, logging, road construction, and use of mechanized equipment such as motor vehicles, snowmobiles, chain saws, bicycles and hang gliders.” Seems that quite a few “multiple users” will be left out.

Mr. Kolbenschlag claims I was incorrect in believing mineral or oil and gas potential should prohibit wilderness area designation. The Wilderness Act specifies in Section 4(d)(3) that the “minerals in lands designated by this Act as wilderness areas are withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under the mining laws and from disposition under all laws pertaining to mineral leasing” (page 19). The CEC, in discussing a 1993 Department of Interior Board of Land Appeal decision, stated that “(t)he Appeals Board ruled that [existing] leases carry with them no right of access and BLM may not issue rights-of-way to pre-FLPMA leases across intervening federal lands if such access would harm wilderness values” (page 60). I’ll stick by my view that an area’s potential for mineral or oil and gas better be reviewed before it’s locked up as a wilderness area.

Lastly, Mr. Kolbenschlag says I was wrong about the roads. The Wilderness Act states that suitable areas are those “untrammeled by man,” “without permanent improvements,” and are in “contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape” (page 12). Seems like roads (or ways) should disqualify an area from wilderness designation. To honestly evaluate of public lands, areas containing roads that the “conservationists” drove their SUVs over should be enough to disqualify an area from consideration.

Finally, to give readers insight into the blindness of the CEC and their friends in evaluating lands, I offer the following from their descriptions of lands they claim have the requisite wilderness characteristics:

“An old homestead, including remnants of fences, corrals, root cellar, chimney, log chicken coop, a house trailer is located along Granite Creek midway through the area. This adds historical interest to those visitors who run across it” (page 91, Granite Creek).

“The area along Cross Canyon between the two WSAs contains a few crumbling structures and pieces of machinery left over from mineral exploration. These are now largely obscured by thick vegetation” (page 60, Cross Canyon).

“Designation of Demaree Canyon, with its high development potential for oil, gas, and coal, may be considered by some as a loss of potential resources” (page 71, Demaree Canyon).

“If the areas are not designated wilderness, BLM intends to manage them for intensive development of minerals and forest products, with some proposed range improvements including spraying” (page 78, Dinosaur Additions).

And about the Vermillion Basin (pages 170-174):

“If not protected as wilderness, the Vermillion Basin roadless area will likely be roaded for oil and gas exploration.”

“Several ways can be found in the proposed Vermillion Basin wilderness, but most are faint and are rapidly revegetating. Few of these ways are passable by vehicle and the majority are largely unused except for the livestock permittee.”

“The road that separated these two areas is unused and should be closed to the base of bluffs.”

“The western and northern boundary is defined by roads and, at times, Dry Creek. Two ways in the southwestern portion of the unit, one of which is impassable, would be closed. One road on the north side leads to a stockpond and is cherry-stemmed.”

Seems like a whole lot of roads (and ways) for an area claimed to be “untrammeled by man.”

Robert H. Stickler

Steamboat Springs


A few letters to the Steamboat Pilot & Today have addressed different “uses” of our public lands. Instead of thinking only of what we like to do on public lands and whining over whether we get to snowmobile here or hike there, I’d like for us to think about what using our land really means.

Although we are a society with enormous energy needs, using up all of our open space in the name of energy production is probably not the reasonable thing to do. Despite efforts at protecting open space, and the stewardship of our responsible agricultural families, there is a real threat to wild places and their health right here in Northwest Colorado.

Oil and gas drilling in the Green River Basin may put dollar signs in the eyes of oil and gas companies and local elected officials, but the risks to the health of our environment are frightening. For instance, natural gas, although it burns cleaner than coal, can have dire effects on our water supply and local agriculture.

We should learn from our northern neighbors in Wyoming who have experienced its effects firsthand.

The process of extracting coal bed methane requires the removal of millions of gallons of potentially potable water from the earth; as a consequence, monitoring wells maintained by the BLM in the Wyoming Powder River Basin have indicated a drop in the aquifer of 200 feet.

Water pumped out has sodium levels high enough to kill native vegetation and destroy area soils. Grid pattern drilling with pads spaced every 20 to 40 acres connected with pipelines, compressor stations and roads are also typical of coal bed methane development. Are these consequences acceptable for a place as exceptional as the Vermillion Basin and its surrounding human communities?

On the other hand, conserving certain areas as wilderness has many useful benefits. Wilderness areas help to protect sources of clean air and clean water. Wilderness areas provide crucial habitat for not only many endangered species, but also range for big game. Wilderness provides for healthy and biologically diverse ecosystems, ultimately crucial to the integrity of our own human health. Wilderness areas also help guard against erosion and provide flood control. And of course, wilderness provides a place of solitude and a chance to experience the natural world as it was created.

While these benefits might not be easy to measure, they are tangible, fundamental uses nonetheless, which sustain our existence on the planet.

Steamboat residents support wilderness because it is good for the community. I was one of at least 40 other people urging the City Council to stand by its support of wilderness at the Nov. 6 meeting with Moffat County Commissioners. I’m sure we all had different but important reasons for being there.

Some might have been hunters who value the wilderness experience and the excellent habitat it offers to big game; some were mature archaeologists who care deeply for the ancient sites protected by wilderness; some probably appreciate the idea of wilderness for selfish reasons like clean water and clean air. Many probably take solace and find peace in times of conflict by visiting quiet, undisturbed places like our national wildernesses.

I don’t consider myself a “green extremist,” but there are a few loud “motorhead extremists” who think they should be able to run over everything on the planet. I disagree, and I favor a more “conservative” use of our planet and its resources.

Ann Vail

Steamboat Springs

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