Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
April / May 1998


Wildlands Update

Wilderness and public lands news
compiled by Mark Pearson and Jean Smith, Wilderness Co-Chairs

Forest Service Proposes Conundrum Creek Marble Quarry Buy-out

The Clinton Administration's 1999 budget includes $4.2 million for the purchase of mineral rights within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Appropriately situated along Conundrum Creek, the 472-acre property has been the center of controversy for 15 years since local miners proposed to rebuild three miles of wagon road and open a marble quarry that would create a gaping scar in one of Colorado's prettiest wilderness valleys. After many years of haggling, the Forest Service finally agreed to what many consider an exorbitant price based on a new appraisal of the marble's value. Now Congress will have to approve the appropriation as part of 1999 Land and Water Conservation Fund expenditures. The surface rights to the property were purchased separately by the Forest Service in the early 1980s for approximately $1 million.

Club Volunteers Propose Wilderness Parcels for Stewardship Trust

Amendment 16, passed in 1996 by Colorado voters, directs the Colorado State Land Board to create a Stewardship Trust comprised of those state lands with important wildlife, open space, recreation, and scenic beauty values. The Land Board will choose 300,000 acres for the Stewardship Trust from among its 3 million acres of scattered holdings. The public is invited to nominate parcels for inclusion in the Stewardship Trust, with the Land Board selecting the first 200,000 acres by the end of this year.

Sierra Club volunteers across Colorado have nominated various isolated state parcels located within 18 proposed Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas. The state lands include approximately 40 separate parcels totaling almost 20,000 acres. These isolated parcels are critical to the long-term preservation of the wilderness qualities of the surrounding federal public lands, and ideally should be exchanged into federal ownership over the long term. In the meantime, the parcels should be placed into the Stewardship Trust to ensure they are not sold to developers or otherwise used in a fashion that not only destroys their own environmental values but also degrades the wilderness character of the federal lands.

These key parcels include some of Colorado's most significant petroglyph panels along Vermillion Creek in the state's far northwest corner, a rugged stretch of Grape Creek Canyon near Canyon City, the alpine slopes of Whitecross Mountain near Lake City, and the narrow Box Canyon in the proposed Skull Creek Wilderness near Dinosaur.

Mapping to Protect Roadless Areas

Roadless areas and Wildernesses are among the best places for protecting wildlife and their habitat. Across Colorado, volunteers are mapping the remaining roadless areas in order to create a network of core habitat reserves for the next 100 years. If you are interested in a big vision combined with practical work out in the forests and canyons, consider joining the ecosystem mappings teams.

Mapping in the mountainous reaches of the S. Platte and Arkansas watersheds is in its fourth year. This summer volunteer teams will spend several weekends, on their own schedule, checking roads for possible closure, completing the boundaries of remaining roadless areas and investigating areas of special biological significance. There are two required training sessions: new mapper orientation and a meeting with all the mapping teams. New mappers can come to the orientation on April 26 in Littleton or April 27 in Castle Rock. Please contact Jean Smith (303) 388-3378 for details.

South Platte Protection Plan Proposed by Metropolitan Water Providers.

Water providers in metropolitan Denver convened several task forces to help formulate a plan for the South Platte River from Eleven Mile Reservoir downstream to the confluence with the North Fork. The proponents of the plan believe that it will protect the outstandingly remarkable values of the river as well as designation as a Wild and Scenic River.

After many months of work, the plan was finalized in March. At the time of writing, only the draft plan was available. If the U. S. Forest Service agrees that the plan provides substantial protection, it will do a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which will be circulated for public comment. After considering the values of Wild and Scenic designation and the water providers protection plan, the U. S. Forest Service will make a final recommendation. This process could take as long as two years.

Some features of the River Protection Plan include:

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Proposed management as a State Park from Eleven Mile to Chatfield

aredball.gif (515 bytes) A non-profit organization with an endowment fund initiated with $1,000,000 from the water providers

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Using interest from the endowment to fund project, but not maintenance

aredball.gif (515 bytes) A regime of minimum water flows and ramping (gradually raising or lowering the releases from reservoirs) to protect fisheries

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Anticipated increase in recreation activities including developed campgrounds, fisherman's access and boating in the mainstem and North Fork.

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Denver Water Board would give up conditional water rights and agree not to build any dams in some sections.

Mt. Evans Sierra and South Platte Groups currently still support Wild and Scenic designation because the draft protection plan does not appear to give the same level of protection as designation would. Colorado Environmental Coalition and Upper Arkansas and South Platte Project have serious reservations about the level of protection.    

Some of the issues raised about the water providers plan include:

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Inadequate enforcement mechanisms to see that the agreement is carried out

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Perception that many of the commitments of Denver Water do not apply to other metropolitan water providers.

aredball.gif (515 bytes) No details on how the area would be managed under State Parks.

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Emphasis on recreation as opposed to habitat protection.

aredball.gif (515 bytes) Possible dam construction on segments other than at Two Forks or on tributaries.

We have time to consider our response to this plan. When the final text is available, a serious analysis will no doubt reveal a long list of pros and cons, and help us make comments to the Forest Service.