Mineral leases on the edge of Dinosaur National Monument and contentious right-of-way claims inside its boundaries have made the monument one of the most endangered wild areas in the country, environmentalists say.
The Sierra Club announced its list of the 25 most endangered places in the U.S. Tuesday. Dinosaur National Monument was the only place in Colorado to make the list.
Among the factors contributing to the monument's endangered status is the Bush administration's effort to lease mineral acreage along the monument's entrance, said Adrian Raudzens, associate field representative with the Sierra Club.
"Much of Dinosaur is managed to preserve wilderness characteristics," said Bill Wade of the Coalition of Concerned National Park Retirees. He worried that gas rigs would disrupt the overlooks in the park, destroy the quiet the park provides, and deteriorate the quality of the night sky.
"These leases bracketing the entrance are tantamount to requiring them (visitors) to enter through the abandoned complexes of Pittsburgh," Wade said.
Moreover, Moffat County has claimed 230 miles of roads in the monument based on rights the commissioners say they are afforded by an 1866 mining law commonly called RS 2477, which allows public access on highways across public lands.
Reed Morris of the Colorado Wilderness Network called Moffat County's RS 2477 claims "a real threat" to the monument.
The county claimed the roads through a resolution. The county's resolution was a reactionary measure adopted in response to proposed wilderness areas and was designed to benefit the oil and gas industry, Morris said.
Wilderness areas must by definition be roadless. In 1978, the U.S. Department of Interior proposed designating 200,000 acres of the monument as wilderness. That's inconsistent with the county's assertion that 230 miles of roads exist in the monument, Morris said.
But Commissioner Les Hampton said the county's RS 2477 claims have not endangered the monument at all.
"It doesn't endanger anything. Those routes exist today and they've existed for 100 years. The land is no more endangered than it was 100 years ago," Hampton said.
Many of the county's claims are historic foot paths and cattle trails. Hampton said it may someday become necessary to alter those routes, but the current resolution ensures "reasonable and traditional access to federal lands."
"Quite frankly, what the wilderness interests want is for you to turn your back on them (roads) like they never existed," Hampton said. But Colorado law has specific statutes for abandoning or vacating a road.