Local BLM supports wilderness designation

Officials say Vermillion area fits criteria

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The local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office finished an inventory of 81,028 acres in the Vermillion Basin area and decided it meets criteria necessary for wilderness designation.

The BLM will release the inventory draft plan for the Vermillion Basin, an area in western Moffat County, on Nov. 30.

The recent finding could change the way that the area is used for agricultural and recreational purposes.

According to John Husband, field manager of the Little Snake field office, the criteria includes:

Size: It must be at least 5,000 roadless acres

It must be predominantly natural

It must bee primitive and provide opportunity for solitude

It must offer opportunity for unconfined recreation

"We did find that there was wilderness characteristics in the area," Husband said.

Husband stressed that the inventory was not a management plan.

The next step will be to open the inventory for public comment for 30 days. Beginning Nov. 30, People can write the BLM and make comments on the inventory or attend one of several public meetings still to be scheduled. The inventory report, maps of the area, and photos can be found after Nov. 30 at the local BLM office Web site at www.co,blm.gov/lsra.

Once the inventory is finalized and the public has had the opportunity to comment on it, the next step is to decide on a management plan. The plan will most likely be decided early in 2001, Husband said.

"The management plan could be anything from leaving it the way it is to managing it for wilderness or anything in between," he said. "It is pretty wide open."

According to Jeff Comstock, Moffat County's natural resource specialist, the county is already planning to object to the BLM's inventory.

Comstock said the area was inventoried back in the early 1980s and was found unworthy of wilderness designation. Comstock also said that the new inventory was mainlined by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, and the criteria it used is weak.

"The criteria is completely subjective," Comstock said. "Any chunk of land could be found to have wilderness characteristics by that criteria."

Husband agreed that the area was inventoried in the early 1980s, but he said that the most recent inventory was just a continuing part of that inventory.

"This is a continuation of the process we have been following pursuant to our Policy for the Management of Lands Described in the Colorado Environmental Coalition's Wilderness Proposal for the Bureau of Land Management Lands (IM No. CO-97-44)," Husband said.

Comstock said the county's recent decision to claim the rights of ways of the roads and trails in the area means that the area no longer meets the criteria for wilderness.

"There are roads and two-tracks that traverse the whole area," Comstock said. "This would mean that the area fails the first set of criteria."

Comstock also said the county would defiantly bring up this issue during the public comment period.

Husband said the county's recent move to claim rights of way would have no effect on the inventory, but may change the management plan.

"An inventory report is everything that is on the ground," Husband said. "Whether a route is declared a right of way or not does not effect what is on the ground. I would expect that it would be an issue for the management side of it."

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