Peak & Prairie
Counties Mount BLM Wilderness Attack
by Vicki Mercer, Uncompahgre Group Chair
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has re-surveyed six roadless areas, about 190,000 acres, proposed for wilderness designation by Colorado conservationists in 1994. Now that their roadless character has been vindicated, BLM will assess whether they meet the other criteria for wilderness and status as wilderness study areas (WSA's) (see Wildlands Update Page ***).
Soon after the BLM's favorable but preliminary determinations were announced, foes of wilderness on the Western Slope went on the attack. A Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article on October 22 headlined, "4 counties eye lawsuit over BLM wilderness designation," reported that Mesa, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield Counties are "leading the charge to fight the creation of BLM wilderness areas."
Mesa County Commissioner Doralyn Genova said these counties are following the lead of Utah counties and that they are trying to get Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) to lead the fight. She said that the counties are considering seeking legislation to stop the creation of wilderness and return wilderness study areas (WSA's) to multiple use. (They have interim protection that is supposed to protect their wilderness characteristics.) Some other counties in CCI seem to oppose having CCI do this, and this seems to be a very divisive issue within the organization.
On October 23 a Daily Sentinel article headlined, "Counties disagree on ways to halt wilderness studies," quoted Mesa County Commissioner Kathy Hall as saying, "They (Moffat, Rio Blanco, and/or Garfield Counties) think the only way to do this is sue the BLM. There are other ways to skin a cat." Mesa County prefers to "solve the problem through federal legislation," and has discussed hiring a private attorney or the less expensive Mountain States Legal Foundation, the leading conservative "public" interest law firm in the mountain states.
A Daily Sentinel editorial the same day encouraged Mesa County to hold off on a lawsuit, because no existing roads or uses are being cut off. It opined that Genova's suggestion to work with Congress to have the areas withdrawn was "not a bad idea, but better to wait until February to see what sort of management changes, if any at all, the BLM proposes for the six areas."
In response the Western Colorado Congress, Concerned Citizens Resource Association, Sierra Club's Uncompahgre Group, Grand Valley Audubon Society, Colorado Mountain Club Western Slope Group and several individuals met in early November to form the Mesa County Wilderness Coalition. We are recruiting more local coalition partners.
We held a press conference the week after the Sentinel articles appeared to announce the coalition and discuss why and how citizens should encourage the Mesa County Commissioners to abandon their attack. The coalition was scheduled to meet later in November to discuss strategy. Coalition representatives met with Commissioner Jim Baughman. Although he opposes BLM WSA's and wilderness in general, we think we should take him to Bangs Canyon to try to make him see our viewpoint. Representatives were also trying to meet with Commissioners Genova and Hall. It will take a groundswell of local opposition to get Mesa County's commissioners to back off.
What You Can Do:
We welcome help from interested Sierra Club members. First, please call your county's representative on CCI's Public Lands Committee and encourage him or her to vote against attempts by western Colorado counties to stop BLM's process for adding approximately 190,000 Wilderness Study Areas acres. A list of Public Lands Committee members (sorted by County) appears below. All counties in Colorado except Boulder are members.