Peak & Prairie
April / May 1998
Save Colorado's Canyon Country!
by Jean Smith and Mark Pearson, Wilderness Committee Co-Chairs
Second Phase of BLM's Wilderness Review Begins.
Conservationist Input by APRIL 9TH is More Important Than Ever!!
The first step toward protection for almost 200,000 acres of canyon country wilderness is complete, and the second phase has begun. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has determined that six areas proposed for wilderness by the Colorado environmental community are indeed largely roadless. Now, the second phase of the review is beginning, in which BLM will decide whether Bangs Canyon, Castle Peak, Pinyon Ridge, South Shale Ridge, Vermillion Basin and Yampa areas are well-enough protected under existing management plans. It is this phase in which citizen input will make the greatest difference. A broad coalition of Wilderness advocates, including Sierra Club, is organizing support for these wildlands. <bold or italics> We all need to help<bold or italics> get interim protection for these areas, and lay the groundwork for permanent protection through wilderness legislation!
From 8 million to 400,000 to 1.3 million!
As required by federal law, BLM reviewed all 8,000,000 acres of its lands in Colorado in the late 1970's and determined that roughly 800,000 acres might meet the criteria set forth in the 1964 Wilderness Act. These Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) were studied in detail, and by 1991 approximately 400,000 acres, only 5% of the total BLM acreage, were deemed eligible for Wilderness designation. Conservationists disagreed with BLM's reasons for excluding many areas, and so the conservation community in Colorado put together its own wilderness proposal in 1994. It includes 47 areas and 1.3 million acres, mostly BLM land, but also with some forest lands.
Due to pressure from all sides about management of several citizen-proposed wilderness areas, including a lawsuit by Marathon Oil Co., BLM is taking a second look at Vermillion Basin, Yampa River, Pinyon Ridge, South Shale Ridge, Bangs Canyon, and Castle Peak. This review is a unique move on the part of BLM. We have a golden opportunity to put these six areas into WSA status, where they would be protected until Congress acts on wilderness designation. These areas contain some of the finest landscapes and wildlife habitat western Colorado has to offer: river canyons rich with wildlife; vast rolling hills of pinyon, juniper, and sage; stunning badlands; and high country aspen hillsides. In Phase I of the review process, BLM invited conservationists, ORV, ranching, and oil and gas representatives to participate in field surveys last summer to determine how much of each area is truly "roadless." Although some actual roads were found, the BLM determined that 167,000 acres were roadless (89% of the areas reviewed), confirming the position of the conservation community! In Phase II, BLM is asking the public what values should be protected in those found to be roadless, and whether these values are adequately protected by current management plans. Most of the existing management plans would allow oil and gas leasing, off-road vehicle use, logging and other uses that would destroy their wild character. It is now up to us to convince BLM that these areas possess the other qualities of wilderness and should be given more protection. Make no mistake -- wilderness opponents will fight hard against any protection for these areas. It is vital that BLM hear from citizens before APRIL 9TH that these areas must be managed as Wilderness until Congress acts.
What you can do:
How to help? Write a letter! Tell BLM that Vermillion Basin, Yampa River, Pinyon Ridge, South Shale Ridge, Bangs Canyon, and Castle Peak are wilderness quality, are not adequately protected now, and deserve interim protection as Wilderness Study Areas. If you are familiar with any of these areas, tell BLM you have visited the area, why you think it is special, and why current management is inadequate. Tell BLM that lower-elevation ecosystems are underrepresented in our National Wilderness Preservation System, and that they are critical for backcountry recreation and wildlife habitat. Write to: Ann Morgan, State Director Bureau of Land Management, 2850 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, CO 80215. Send a copy of your letter to all of Colorado's congressional delegation (see below). Write detailed comments. The guts of very detailed comments on the values of each area are yours for the asking. (See contacts below). BLM has indicated that these detailed comments will carry a lot of weight. You or your group could write up one or more areas! Write a letter to the editor. Quick, easy and effective. Organize events. A slide show on the six areas is available. Show it to your general meeting and invite the public. Schedule outings this spring and summer to the six areas or any of the others around the state! Read a book. Ask at your local bookstore for "Colorado BLM Wildlands" by Mark Pearson and John Fielder. This guidebook is a wealth of information and will help plan outings to the areas. Need more info? Want to help out more? Contact: Congressional contacts found on page 2. The Wilderness Society, Suzanne Jones, Denver (303) 650-5818; Colorado Environmental Coalition: Jeff Widen, Durango (970) 884-1356 or Pete Kolbenschlag, Grand Junction (970) 243-0002; Sierra Club, Mark Pearson, Durango (970) 259-6181, Jean Smith, Denver (303) 388,3378 or Tina Arapkiles, Boulder (303) 449-5595, Western Colorado Congress, Matt Sura, Grand Junction (970) 256-7650, or Mesa County Wilderness Coalition, Vicki Mercer, Grand Junction (970) 464-0502.