Land-use group reconvenes

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After a two-month hiatus, the group expected to help determine the future of public land use in Moffat County reconvened Wednesday.

Northwest Colorado Steward--ship, NWCOS, met at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion.

The group -- which is made up of a variety of interests including the oil and gas industry, environmentalists and ranchers -- is helping the Bureau of Land Management write a Resource Management Plan for Northwest Colorado. The RMP will guide public land use for the next 20 years in the Little Snake Resource management area, which encompasses Moffat County.

NWCOS went on break in September so the BLM could review some of its work done during the summer.

At Wednesday's meeting, about 50 people representing a variety of interests discussed the group's role in the RMP process and tried to hammer out some of their differences.

The group is working toward a "community alternative," which, according to BLM officials, will play a major role in determining what the final RMP will look like.

Jeremy Casterson, planning and environmental coordinator for the Little Snake Field Office, said if the group can reach a consensus, it will carry a lot of weight with the BLM.

"Little Snake is going to do our best to try to get that up the chain," Casterson said.

But there is no guarantee that all of NWCOS's recommendations will be accepted by the BLM at the state or federal levels.

Changes by the state BLM office had some participants upset at Wednesday's meeting.

Former Moffat County commissioner and local rancher T. Wright Dickinson said the state BLM rejected some recommendations from NWCOS's agriculture subcommittee.

"They have to understand what we're going through in this process," he said.

There was discussion of inviting representatives from the state office to an upcoming NWCOS meeting so the group could voice some concerns, but the group decided against it.

Although the group's goal is reaching a consensus on the community alternative, it was clear Wednesday that there was still work to be done.

In September, the group came up with four drafts of alternatives for land use. On Tuesday, the subcommittees, representing agriculture, wilderness, oil and gas, and motorized vehicles, presented their concerns with the draft and what they would like to see the final draft of the RMP look like.

Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock, who represented agricultural interests, said he would like to see the RMP be less restrictive and focus on adaptive management.

He said things such as oil wells close to sage grouse habitat should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

But wilderness advocates said the RMP needs to have set guidelines to protect sensitive areas.

"I'm not sure adaptive management will protect wilderness," said Suzanne Jones of the Wilderness Society in Denver.

NWCOS will continue to work on the community alternative before finalizing it in late February.

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