Moffat County's Vermillion Basin is among sites being considered for wilderness or other designation, according to a document leaked from the Bureau of Land Management. Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said he was unaware of Vermillion Basin being under consideration, and was surprised to hear the news.

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Moffat County's Vermillion Basin is among sites being considered for wilderness or other designation, according to a document leaked from the Bureau of Land Management. Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said he was unaware of Vermillion Basin being under consideration, and was surprised to hear the news.

Vermillion Basin considered for wilderness designation

The Vermillion Basin in Moffat County and the high peaks between Silverton and Lake City are listed as potential areas for wilderness or other designation, according to a document leaked from the Bureau of Land Management.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked agencies in his department to consider what areas might be worthy of “special management or congressional designation,” the Interior Department reported in a statement.

Salazar “believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities,” the statement reported.

Critics, however, said they fear the Obama administration is preparing to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 as a federal land grab, likening it to President Bill Clinton’s designation in 1996 of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Mo­­n­ument in southern Utah.

In addition to the Colorado locations, the list included the 70-mile-by-45-mile San Rafael Swell in eastern Utah and Cedar Mesa in San Juan County, Utah.

News of the leaked memos was the first that state officials had heard of the possibility of federal designations, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Theo Stein said.

“I expect the governor will be asking the secretary about this on Sunday” when Gov. Bill Ritter and Salazar are to meet in Washington, D.C., at the National Governors Association winter meeting, Stein said.

Ritter staunchly has opposed drilling for natural gas in the Vermillion Basin, battling local officials who have been working on plans to allow drilling.

Moffat County commissioner Tom Gray said he also was unaware the basin was being considered for some kind of federal designation.

“I’m surprised it’s being pushed without our knowledge,” Gray said. “I shouldn’t be, but I am.”

Moffat County has worked for several years with cooperating state and federal agencies on its plan that would allow 1 percent of the basin at any one time to be disturbed by drilling, said Jeff Comstock, the county’s natural resources director.

The BLM list describes the basin as a “rugged and wild landscape containing sweeping sagebrush basins, ancient, petroglyph-filled canyons and whitewater rivers” that also serves as a critical migration area for elk, mule deer and pronghorn and as habitat for sage grouse. “This unique, high-desert basin is currently under threat of oil and gas development, which will forever alter the region.”

The Alpine Triangle could be ripe for federal designation for the “dramatic, high-elevation alpine tundra ecosystem unusual for BLM land,” the leaked document said. It also includes about 25,000 acres of patented mining claims that could be used to support backcountry cabins and second-home development “which would threaten the landscape.”

The BLM estimates acquiring the 25,000 acres would cost about $37.5 million.

“Careful analysis would be required because some of the claims are known to be contaminated, which would affect BLM’s ability to acquire the properties,” the memo said.

The experience of establishing the Dominguez-Escalante Wilderness Area in western Colorado should be instructive, Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

That wilderness, which was established last year, was a “model of cooperation for permanent land protection,” Brown said.

Emery County, Utah, Com­missioner Gary Kofford said local officials already are working with interest groups and others about how to manage the San Rafael Swell. That’s in response to a bill to establish the Red Rocks Wilderness Area in Utah, which would include the swell.

Comments

jeff corriveau 4 years, 1 month ago

What a bunch of "hogwash" from the BLM bureaucrats! Show me ANYWHERE in the Vermillion Basin a "whitewater river". Vermillion Creek is the only flowing waterway in that area and you are damned lucky if it's got flowing water 9 months out of the year. This an exceptional example of the lenghts environmental fanatics, both inside and outside the government, will go to to stop oil and gas exploration. I cannot wait to read the rest of the documents supporting wilderness designation. More importantly, I want to know WHO prepared those documents and WHO approved them. Since this area is in the Little Snake River District, one can assume it came from right here in Craig! This will be very interesting to follow and see just how John Salazar handles this. Remember, he is OUR representitive, to represent OUR interests; Not the interests of the fringe environmentalists, his brother Ken, who has shown his true colors as Interior Secretary OR Governor Ritter. I am truely concerned that this recommendation is being made without our local officials knowing about it. Just like before, the government is sneaking around behind our backs, just like Ritter and his group did before in the Vermillion, and trying to get something done without local input. We have to put a stop to this RIGHT NOW!!!!

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Tom Soos 4 years, 1 month ago

Well once again the current administration in Washington is trying to bend the laws and get around the constitution. So how’s that change working for you? Lets just call it the "great Obama land grab"

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McGruber 4 years, 1 month ago

Federal Lands belong to the citizens of the entire country. They do not belong to Colorado, Moffat County, or oil and gas companies. The vast majority of people in this country support the creation of wilderness areas (a tiny percentage of public lands). Do you not believe in democracy or representative government?

Why should my tax dollars go to subsidizing Oil and gas companies that have posted record profits in the last few years? They already have leases that they do not use?

I understand that these activities provide much needed employment for local economies but the fact of the matter is that energy development jobs are dependent on what is going on in the world energy market not by the availability of areas to drill in.

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