John Husband: BLM's Draft Plan offers balanced OHV approach

To the editor:

The Bureau of Land Management's Draft Resource Management Plan for the 1.3-million-acre Little Snake Field Office has generated a fair bit of news coverage during the 90-day public comment period, which ends Wednesday.

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Unfortunately, some of the articles about the plan's travel management alternatives have contained some substantial factual errors, which I would like to correct.

Thursday's Craig Daily Press article, "Sandwash future in question" was the most recent example. Contrary to what was suggested in the article, BLM's preferred alternative -- alternative C -- would preserve off-highway vehicle riding opportunities in the Sandwash Basin.

BLM worked closely with a variety of stakeholder groups -- including motorized recreation interests and the Northwest Colorado Stewardship -- as we developed the plan's alternatives. The OHV community made clear their desire to continue off-road riding in Sandwash Basin. The preferred alternative would maintain the opportunity for that experience by designating a 21,940-acre OHV "play area" in the Sandwash Basin. Riders in this area would continue to be allowed to travel cross country. The remaining area in the Sandwash Basin would be available for riding on existing or designated roads and trails. There are no portions of Sandwash Basin closed in our current Resource Management Plan, nor would any portions of Sandwash Basin be closed in the preferred alternative.

Right now almost three-fourths of the Field Office is open to cross-country travel by motorized vehicles. The preferred alternative would reduce these open areas to the Sandwash Basin open area, and designate motorized travel on about 92 percent of the Field Office as limited to existing or designated roads and trails.

Currently, about 5 percent of the lands managed by the Little Snake Field Office are closed to motorized travel, including Wilderness Study Areas and other environmentally sensitive areas. In the preferred alternative, the amount would increase to about 6 percent by including part of the Irish Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern. This area currently doesn't receive much use from OHV riders.

Comprehensive travel management is a priority for BLM. The goal is to provide quality recreation opportunities for motorized and non-motorized recreation users, as well as access for commercial use, administrative needs, and recreation. Road and trail networks will be established to direct use away from sensitive areas and to protect other resource values. Travel management decisions, including designating specific areas open to cross-country travel, are made through a public planning process such as the Little Snake RMP.

We have also proposed closures for snowmobile use in critical areas for wildlife. As we develop our Proposed Plan, we'll take a step back and look at the concerns and issues we've heard about snowmobile use on BLM land. Regardless of what direction we take in the plan, our decision won't affect the county roads that are currently available for snowmobile use. Outfitters would still be able to use over-the-snow vehicles if authorized by permit.

BLM is a multiple-use agency that strives to maintain a variety of uses and experiences while also protecting sensitive resources. The preferred alternative in the Draft Little Snake RMP balances a variety of demands on public lands. We've received many thoughtful and helpful comments during this public comment period. Over the next few months these comments will help us craft our Proposed Plan.

John Husband

Field Manager of the BLM Little Snake

Field Office in Craig since 1992.

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