Public lands group shifst focus to hot issues

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The group expected to play a major role in determining the future of the region's public lands has narrowed its efforts to a few "hot topics."

The Northwest Colorado Stewardship group decided Wednesday to focus on just a handful of topics relating to the Bureau of Land Management's resource management plan.

The deadline for NWCOS to complete its recommendations is Aug. 5.

NWCOS is a nonprofit organization made up of representatives from the energy industry, ranchers, public lands advocates and government officials. The group's recommendations are expected to heavily influence BLM's resource management plan for the Little Snake Resource Area.

The Little Snake Resource Area covers much of Northwest Colorado.

The plan is expected to be complete by January 2008.

BLM planning and environment coordinator Jeremy Casterson said the "hot topics" the group focuses on will include oil and gas exploration, wilderness designations and off-highway vehicle restrictions.

The group will not focus on other topics, such as air and water quality, because in those areas, BLM policy is set by federal regulations.

"(Hot topics) will be the type of things we have a lot of room to work with," Casterson said after Wednesday's meeting at the Moffat County Fairgrounds pavilion.

The group decided to narrow its efforts because it became clear members wouldn't be able to reach a consensus on all the topics by the end of July.

Casterson said the deadlines imposed by BLM officials at the state and federal level meant the bureau would not grant NWCOS an extension.

"I'd like to give the group as much time as it needs," Casterson said, but the deadline has to remain firm so the bureau can finish the resource management plan on schedule.

The start of other resource management plans in the country is contingent on the completion of this plan, Casterson said.

Vanessa Cameron, manager of public affairs for Julander Energy, said narrowing the topics will make the NWCOS process "much better."

"We were too broadly focused and people were feeling overwhelmed," Cameron said.

Reed Morris, a public lands advocate with the Colorado Wilderness Network, said he is concerned narrowing NWCOS' focus could result in some important issues being left out. But, Morris said, he understands the time constraints the group must deal with. "It's a timeline issue," Morris said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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