Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray thinks a recent order from the federal government could jeopardize multiple use lands and energy development in certain areas across the nation, including Moffat County.
At its regular Tuesday meeting, Gray and the Moffat County Commission discussed and agreed to write a letter opposing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Order No. 3310, which directs the Bureau of Land Management to identify and inventory lands with wilderness characteristics. The order was signed Dec. 22.
Once local BLM field offices have identified those wilderness characteristics, Gray said, the order directs the BLM to manage those areas to preserve their distinct qualities by adjusting or eliminating some, or all, of the other uses it has.
Before the order, the BLM could inventory the land for wilderness characteristics, but only a Congressional vote could secure the protection afforded from a wilderness designation, Gray said.
“This will highlight and pedestal wilderness characteristics above all others because it says specifically … that where the BLM determines that some other use detracts from or somehow impedes that wilderness characteristic, then it will be stopped,” the commissioner said. “Up until now, unless Congress takes action, all characteristics were deemed to be equal.”
Such uses could include energy development, grazing and motorized access, among others, Gray said.
Although lands identified under the new order will not receive a “wilderness designation,” they will be named “wild lands” and managed to protect those same characteristics.
That, however, “is the same outcome,” Gray said.
“We do have to acknowledge there are other values besides just drilling that have to be acknowledged, but let’s not place those values as the premiere value of the land,” Gray said. “Let’s use a balanced approach, and that’s what I have always advocated.
“This order will allow imbalance to take place based on what the administration in Washington wants to do.”
Lands with wilderness characteristics provide visitors with “rare opportunities for solitude and personal reflection,” have “culturally significant and sacred sites,” and are “important for their scientific, cultural and historic objects,” according to the order.
Gray said he is concerned there are many areas in Moffat County BLM officials could recommend for wilderness characteristic protection.
One of those areas, he said, is the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin, which is currently off limits to energy development.
Commissioner Tom Mathers said if Vermillion was recommended in the BLM’s plan, it “would take it out of ever drilling it.”
Moreover, Mathers said he was tired of “having the top-down (approach) crammed down our throats.”
“I understand how they can try to do this, but nobody should have the power with the swipe of his hand to turn government lands that we all use into private refuges for the state,” he said. “They shouldn’t have that power — they should have to come and talk to the counties that it is in (and) the state.”
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources director, said Tuesday that local BLM officials told the Moffat County Land Use Board the order “absolutely was a new direction” to managing lands.
“It is kind of funny — they said that, but then they said they didn’t think in their office it would affect much, but they haven’t gotten their final directions,” he said. “Never have we had BLM tell us this is a shift before. They have always minimized different kinds of policies, but this one was drastic enough that they’ve told us that directly.”
Commissioner Audrey Danner said she would keep an eye on the issue as it develops and the BLM should be “careful how we move quickly to wilderness.”
“I do not think it is an appropriate plan to develop more wild lands,” she said. “We have many in the process for wilderness and we have … over half of our land in county being managed well and much of that is with multiple use, and I believe that keeps it viable within the community.”
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