The Moffat County commissioners passed a resolution Friday that the county land use board chairman says will help the county maintain its custom and culture by assuring recreational, agricultural and mineral development use of federal lands in the county.
The commissioners approved an inventory protocol regarding the revised statute 2477, which states, "the right-of-way for the construction of highways over public land, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted."
More than 20 people packed the meeting room for Friday's decision including Moffat County Land Use Board members, members of state and federal land agencies and a representative from a Colorado environmentalist group.
The news of Friday's anticipated decision had spurred a news advisory sent out and signed by several state environmentalist groups including the Colorado Wilderness Network, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Mountain Club and Western Colorado Congress.
The advisory states, "Moffat County Commissioners will consider a resolution Friday claiming the right to manage and potentially pave or otherwise develop hundreds of miles of routes, dirt trails and cow-paths across Dinosaur National Monument, Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, and more than 300,000 acres of lands managed as wilderness in Northwest Colorado."
The advisory warned the resolution could dramatically change the face of Northwest Colorado, resulting in bulldozers being moved onto the federal land for the creation of highways.
But Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dicksinson said the term "highway" is being used in a historical sense.
"We are not proposing these highways in a modern sense," he said. "We are saying to our public that you need to respect the management that is there in these landscapes. No one should interpret that we're giving people a ticket to go out and abuse our public lands. Moffat County has no current plan to increase the capacity of these trails."
Moffat County Land Use Board Chairman Burt Clements agreed with the commissioner.
"We don't want the county to go out with bulldozers to improve the roads until it's further investigated," he said.
Dickinson said this was simply an inventory identifying public right-of-ways.
If a road has been used to move cattle, it will still be used to move cattle, he said.
"Whatever those roads allow to take place is all we're going to allow," he said. "In the maintenance protocol the county has stated that it will not maintain any of these roads. We don't have to and we are not going to. Colorado law allows us that."
Jennifer Seidenberg with the Colorado Wilderness Network spoke in opposition to the plan at Friday's meeting.
She said once these roads have been asserted, it allows for them to be improved upon.
She also had concerns about roads identified that run through Vermilion Basin in western Moffat County.
"I don't see a purpose for five roads running through Vermillion Basin, which our groups are proposing for wilderness," Seidenberg said. "Why do we need that many roads there? It threatens a lot of recreation experiences for people."
She said her group and other groups that sent out the news advisory are concerned about the future of the natural landscape of the county.
"What is Moffat County going to look like 50 years down the road?" she asked.
She said many land management agencies have asked for more time to study the proposed map, and should be allowed to do so.
The roads are being put in place for the pursuit of interests that don't comply with environmentalists' goals.
"This process is very weighted in favor of oil and gas development," she said.
Some in the meeting chastised the groups such as the one Seidenberg spoke for, including Dinosaur Mayor Richard Blakely, who said the banning of hunting in areas near Dinosaur killed the small town's economy.
"We've been beat up in that end of the county since the 1980s," he said. "It's killed our business there. We've been fighting to stay alive in that end of the county because of all that bureaucratic crap. We lost it all and you don't care."
But Craig resident Jane Yazzie urged those on both sides of the issue to pursue common ground.
She agreed that outside environmentalist groups don't understand what it takes to live in Northwest Colorado, but said they can be a good source for information.
"They have done some hard work to be a voice for the land," she said. "The fact that 100-year-old roads keep their marks is evidence that there's damage to the land.
"There is research out there to indicate the impact to the wildlife," she said. "Only these national organizations have the time to do this research. There's bad blood but they've done some work that is worth listening to."
Representatives from land management agencies attended Friday's meeting asking the county to allow more time before approving the protocol.
Wendy Schmitzer, planning and environmental coordinator for the BLM Little Snake River field office, said the BLM will undergo a trail management plan later this year that might conflict with the resolution.
"Let's look at our data to find some places where we agree before we disagree," she said.
Carol McCoy Brown, chief of research and resource management at Dinosaur National Monument, shared Schmitzer's concerns.
"We would like to get on the ground to look at these roads in Dinosaur National Monument," she said. "We really need some more time."
But county officials said changes could be made to the document at any time through proper public processes and said they would be willing to cooperate with the agencies on any concerns they might have in the future.
"It will be a living document," Clements said. "If the county sees a need to add or remove they can."
Land Use board member Jean Stetson said the landscape of Moffat County would not change with the adoption of the protocol.
"Much of what everyone loves abut this county is still in tact," Stetson said. "We have been very conscientious in working to maintain that character."
"We're not changing anything," he said. "We're creating an inventory that recognizes these historical rights for the betterment of the community."
The Moffat County commissioners unanimously approved the protocol at the conclusion of the two-hour discussion Friday.
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.