Program puts Landscape Trust principles to work

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The latest evolution in an attempt to get more citizen input on federal land use decisions is said to give equal voice to environmentalists, natural resource developers and other land users, and will hopefully end the divisiveness that has stalled action in the past.

What began as the Northwest Colorado Working Landscape Trust and later evolved into the Pilot Project is now, in part, the Northwest Colorado Stewardship Partnership presented as a cooperative effort between the Bureau of Land Management and Moffat

County.

"We wanted citizens involved in federal land management decisions in a greater extent than they ever have been before," Moffat County Natural Resource Director Jeff Comstock said.

The Department of the Interior also has expressed interest in the project.

"The project has recognition from federal agencies and we think it has value," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said.

The Landscape Trust, introduced two years ago, established policy that would have required legislative changes that would have been nearly impossible to make, so county officials created the Pilot Project, which was more of a philosophy that used existing public comment laws as its basis. After its introduction, BLM officials approached the Moffat County Commission outlining the portions of the Pilot Project that were doable and those will become the Stewardship Project.

"For a number of years now, we've been faced with competing interests positioning themselves legally and politically to have public lands managed for their particular interest," said John Husband, BLM Little Snake Field manager. "This has not been very productive for anybody. I want to start a process where all the interests can work together to agree on some resource management goals and objectives and help ensure they are implemented over the long term. I'm looking for broad-based citizen involvement."

The Partnership encourages the participation of a wide range of stakeholders and empowers them to identify federal land stewardship priorities and methods to implement those priorities.

"The BLM and Moffat County have written a separate set of principals that we can both agree on and we're using those to move forward," Hampton said. "It's a starting point."

Representatives from interests ranging from environmental to recreational and from private property owners to industry are invited to iron out the terms of the Partnership.

"This should be a balance between (environmental and industry interests)," Comstock said. "All interested parties will be at the table as this partnership develops. All concerns have to be addressed."

The Pilot Project, Comstock said, works to balance the needs of all interests and that belief will be reflected in the Stewardship Partnership.

"We firmly believe you can use federal land without hurting the values the environmentalists want to protect," he said.

The key to the Partnership, Comstock said, is outcome-based management as opposed to process-based management. Meaning, use is determined on what the finished product looks like, not how it got there.

"Let's look at the end product here," he said. "Don't try to micro-manage users of that land. Make the users responsible for that outcome."

The concept is not without opposition, particularly from the environmental sector.

In a recent article in The Colorado Environmental Report, writer Jennifer Sidenberg, Northwest organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, states "Last year, (Moffat) County promoted its 'Landscape Trust,' which would have taken the public out of public lands management and handed development authority over to local officials. The Pilot Project ... is an environmental disaster, disguised by friendly language like 'land trust' and rhetoric about efforts to preserve the 'custom and culture' of Moffat County."

Comstock said Sidenberg misrepresents the facts.

"The fact is this empowers people to make decisions," he said. "It gives everyone, including Jennifer Sidenberg, much greater input than they've ever had before."

The Colorado Environmental Coalition is one of several environmental groups that have been asked to participate in the creation of the Stewardship Partnership.

"The environmental community has been invited and encouraged to participate," Hampton said. "It's up to them how they want to get involved."

No format has been established as to how the Stewardship Partnership will operate. Doing that would be up to those who choose to participate.

"We want people to help develop how this works," Comstock said. "Right now, we're at the infancy of this project and we're counting on citizens to tell us how to do it."

Nearly 50 people have been invited to a three-day training session in May that will kick off the establishment of the Partnership. The seminar will focus on the successes and failures of other partnerships so participants can be educated about potential pitfalls and, hopefully, avoid them. It will also be the first step in establishing the roles of those involved.

"There's been a lot of divisiveness in the management of federal lands, so another approach has to be tried," Hampton said. "This is a pilot project used to search out those other methods."

The Partnership asserts the indivisibility of humans and nature -- the mutual interdependence of one upon the other. As such, the Partnership assures stakeholders are represented and empowered to demonstrate a new innovative method for federal land management that ensures responsible use of the natural resources while maintaining or enhancing the area custom and culture.

The BLM and Moffat County have drafted a statement of intent, which identifies the general project goals and principles. The BLM and Moffat County will host a public meeting from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse to discuss the Northwest Colorado Stewardship Partnership.

The point of the project, Comstock said, other than getting more public input, is to eliminate geographic and political land boundaries and manage land for its resources, needs and individual interests.

Federal land management decisions are now made by federal agencies after a public comment period.

"We want decisions to be made by the people most directly impacted by those decisions and what's interesting is so does the BLM. They're tired of being shot at from all directions," Comstock said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210, or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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The BLM and Moffat County will host a public meeting from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse to discuss the Northwest Colorado Stewardship Partnership.

SIDEBAR

Project Goals:

  • Improve the health and productivity of the land and socioeconomic relationships;
  • Cultivate community-based conservation, citizen-centered stewardship, and partnership through consultation, cooperation, and communication;
  • Build trust;
  • Protect and manage the environment for multiple uses while respecting each agencies respective missions; and
  • Empower the people affected by federal land management decisions in the planning, the decision-making process, and implementation of projects.

Project Principles:

  • Encourage innovation.
  • Build on successful partnerships and relationships.
  • Recognize that resource conservation and the economic well being of human communities are interdependent.
  • Understand that for each natural resource issue, a human relationship is linked.
  • Assess conservation outcomes at the landscape level, across ownership boundaries (while protecting private property rights), and consider the entirety of the land and its residents.
  • Ensure conservation is dependent upon science-based decisions, while ensuring flexibility and adaptability throughout the project.
  • Protect private land and water rights.
  • Use an open process that encourages the participation of all interests.
  • Use outcome-based management to measure progress through continual monitoring.
  • Define conservation goals cooperatively through local, state and federal plans.

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