Public land should be managed using public input


At its core, the Northwest Colorado Stewardship is a great idea.

The group was formed on the premise that public lands belong to the people and they should have a say in how they're used. The stewardship is a broad-based coalition of various interest groups who have very different ideas of how public lands should be managed.

The government agencies charged with managing Moffat County's three million acres of public lands have worked hard to solicit input and engage the public in the planning process for determining land use policies. The group has already achieved an impressive list of accomplishments, such as establishing the Fire Learning Network and a habitat restoration project.

The Bureau of Land Management and Moffat County have done a good job promoting the stewardship concept and trying to enlist public participation in the process.

But a couple of recent wrinkles have threatened to undermine a portion of the public's trust in the group's work. For one thing, the group is considering meeting during the day when few people, other those who are paid to push certain interests, can attend the meetings.

"That's not a grassroots approach," said Jennifer Seidenberg, a representative with the Colorado Wilderness Network. "If the average teacher or restaurant worker could come in a have a say, then it could truly be a unique opportunity."

The stewardship also suffered a minor credibility problem when it met Monday night without mentioning the imminent sale of drilling leases near Dinosaur National Monument.

We're not alleging there's a conspiracy to keep information from the public. Part of the reason the stewardship didn't discuss the drilling plan near the monument is because those lands lie outside the jurisdiction of the BLM's Little Snake Field Office.

"You and I see political boundaries," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said. "But the Little Snake office is just looking at resource boundaries."

That's a fair statement. The Little Snake office has its own agenda and priorities and enough to keep busy without touching on every land-use issue in the state of Colorado.

Still, Dinosaur National Monument is close to the Vermilion Basin, which is a high-interest area for many stewardship members and some of the drilling leases are in Moffat County.

One of the goals of the stewardship is "building trust between participants," and "ensuring an open process that includes all interests," according to a BLM document.

So it seems a little disingenuous for a group of people to come together and talk about an "out of the box" model for managing lands in Moffat County with no mention a controversial drilling plan near a treasured national monument.

That said, the ultimate responsibility for making the stewardship a viable and responsive forum lies with all of us. The public has been granted unprecedented access to the decision-making process. If you were disappointed to learn about the auction of public lands for oil and gas leases near the monument, then maybe it's time to get involved with the stewardship group so you can help decide the future of public lands.

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