Five seats open on land board

BLM seeks nominees to Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council

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The Western Slope Center of the Bureau of Land Management is accepting nominations for members of the Resource Advisory Council (RAC). The RAC enables residents to have a voice in how public lands are managed. Members offer input on a broad array or resources, social an economic issues that confront land managers, and local communities.

The RAC consists of 15 members, with each member serving three-year terms. Each year, one third of the membership is up for renewal or replacement. Council members must be residents of Northwest Colorado, and fulfill the necessary qualifications to represent a certain group or interest.

The RAC is selectively balanced and representative of three general interest groups, which are designated in one of three categories.

Category one includes holders of federal grazing permits or leases or representatives of mining, timber, off-road vehicle groups and commercial recreation. Category two covers representatives of recognized national or regional environmental or resource conservation organizations, archeological and historical interests, wild horse and burro groups, and dispersed recreational activities. Category three involves state, count or local elected officials, employees of state agencies responsible for management of natural resources, land or water, representatives of Indian tribes; academician involved in natural sciences, and the public at-large.

The Northwest RAC has one opening in category one, two openings in category two, and two openings in category three.

John Raftopoulos has been a member since the committee's inception in 1995, and after six years is leaving the council.

"The time I spent there was valuable," Raftopoulos said, "but six years was enough. It's a vary worthwhile cause. A person can get a lot out of it, if you have an interest in the outdoors, BLM lands. It is a very worthwhile deal."

The RAC allows a diverse group of people to interact, Raftopoulos explained. It allows different groups to get a real sense of what the differing views are, what the feelings are behind the various positions. "The main thing is that people don't go in with a set agenda," Raftopoulos said. "As long as people who go into the RAC are open-minded, the group works really well."

The demands of membership are considerable. There is a meeting at least every two months, and with all the issues that are covered, there is a lot of information that needs to be processed by a RAC member, Raftopoulos said. He said the success of working with the BLM to create the Standards and Guidelines for Rangeland Health was one the high points of his membership.

"I've enjoyed the time I've been a part the council," Raftopoulos said.

The Northwest and other Colorado RACs are important reference points for the BLM and its decisions, according to Sherrie Bell, State Director for the RACs. The Colorado BLM office is happy with the interaction the RAC provides.

"Colorado is viewed as a leader in the RAC initiative," Bell said.

Like Raftopoulos, Bell said successful cooperation between the BLM and the RACs that led to the Standards and Guidelines for Rangeland Health was a highlight.

"The RAC was extremely valuable to the BLM in developing those standards," Bell said.

Along with regional responsibilities, there are periodical interactions with other Colorado RACs. These statewide meeting are also a great aide to the BLM, said Bell.

The nominees for a seat on the council are gathered by the BLM field manager of a particular region, who sends a list of acceptable candidates to the State Director in Lakewood, Colo. The director and field manager then select prime candidates and up to two alternates for each open seat.

This list is then sent to the governor's office, then to the BLM office in Washington, D.C. The final approval of membership is made by the Secretary of the Interior.

Turnover is built into the RAC organization, but "is a real challenging issue," Bell said. "There can be a real pull to keep a RAC together."

When an issue is intricate enough, and the RAC is working well together, the field manager and the BLM can ask the Department of the Interior to forgo a large turnover by asking that members be reappointed, and this has happened, but it's not preferred.

"Washington favors new blood in general," Bell said, "It's a real push-and-pull almost every year."

Some of the issues presently facing the Northwest RAC are off-highway vehicle regulations and guidelines, weed management, fire management, and issues surrounding the National Colorado Canyons Conservation Area and the associated Blackridge Wilderness Area.

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