Residents debate wilderness area proposals
Steamboat Springs — Waving copies of petitions and the U.S. Constitution, members of the public made their claims before the City Council Tuesday night as to why or why not Northwest Colorado needs more wilderness areas.
Following a presentation from the Moffat County Commissioners about their land-use proposal for more local control of federal lands, Routt County residents had it out over a wilderness proposal that asks for no new wilderness in Routt County. The proposal does, however, ask the federal government to designate 1.6 million acres of federal land in Colorado as wilderness, cutting off mechanical uses and new roads, as well as restricting new drilling leases on the land. The areas can be used for practices such as cattle grazing if they have been used for those things in the past.
And more than 300,000 acres of that land is in Moffat County.
The Moffat County Commissioners were attempting to show the council why new wilderness designations are inappropriate for their county and why a locally based land-management plan is. The council was not prepared to take any action Tuesday and remained virtually silent throughout the meeting.
The last time the council took action on the wilderness issue, approving a resolution in support of the statewide wilderness proposal, it opened a can of worms it had not anticipated. The Moffat County Commissioners took offense to the way the council approved the resolution, because the city did not contact them about their position.
Moffat County subsequently threatened to pull out of agreements with the city, including a regional transportation agreement currently costing the county $12,000. In the meantime, through a series of public meetings and studies, they have developed their own land-use plan.
The county’s proposed land-use plan is called the Northwest Colorado Working Landscape Trust and would establish a board of seven trustees appointed by the commissioners and the governor to oversee all federal land in the county. The trust would have regulatory powers but would permit all uses on the land, so as not to “elbow anyone off the table,” said Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson.
The trustees would have control over not only Bureau of Land Management land but also national parks and other federal lands in the county such as Dinosaur National Monument.
The trustees, who would represent many different groups, would be subject to appeals of their decisions and oversight by another federally appointed committee, Dickinson said.
“We want to seek to create an atmosphere to get folks working together,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson was especially adamant about keeping the option open to drill on some lands now being proposed for wilderness, including Vermillion Basin.
Congress would have to pass the trust before it is implemented.
Members of the audience were split on the issue. Boisterous clapping followed each speech to the council as the crowd members attempted to sway the room to their side.
“Working around these areas in Moffat County I can safely say these are not wilderness areas,” said Doug Matthews, who was echoed by many in the audience.
Others, however, made a case for wilderness designation, noting certain areas had plant and animal life that could be endangered if the county does not protect them. They also disagreed with the idea of establishing a trust.
“City Council members, since the commissioners have been open in bringing their proposal to you, please be equally open with them,” said Bob Enever. “Please tell them that this proposal is totally unacceptable to you as citizens, and to the majority of the citizens of Steamboat Springs as co-owners of the federal lands in Moffat County.”
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