Local officials concerned about Vermillion Basin issue | CraigDailyPress.com

Local officials concerned about Vermillion Basin issue

Some upset with potential designation

Brian Smith

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.

— Some local officials have been left confused and upset by a document leaked Thursday from the Bureau of Land Management, which lists the Vermillion Basin as a potential site for "special management or congressional designation."

In response to the leaked information, the Moffat County Commission approved a letter to be sent to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at its Tuesday meeting. The letter, drafted by Jeff Comstock, director of the Moffat County Natural Resources Department, said the commission is "deeply discouraged" by the potential designation.

Salazar released a statement Thursday following reports stating the internal discussion "reflects some brainstorming discussions" and that "no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration."

Local officials are concerned they were not involved in any decisions regarding local land.

"What is most offensive is an executive order telling you how to manage your land," Comstock said. "Involve your local people before you start doing a 'top-down' approach."

Opponents of potential designation contend that the Antiquities Act could be used to designate the 77,000-acre area a national monument. Such a decision likely would limit public access and use of the land.

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"I'm pretty upset over this," Moffat County commissioner Tom Mathers said. "You've got someone in upper government saying 'this is what we think we need' without consulting the people that it affects. It's wrong and not democratic."

In the letter, the commission states that a Vermillion Basin National Monument "would mean lost jobs, lost hunting opportunities, a taking of property rights, and most importantly ignoring local planning processes, expertise and participation."

The area in question also is of interest to the oil and gas industry.

A BLM plan is being drafted to manage the greater Vermillion Basin area.

That plan contains four alternatives, one of which allows no more that 1 percent, or 770 acres of land, to be disturbed by gas developments at one time, said David Blackstun, acting manager of the BLM Little Snake Field Office.

Other alternatives allow for more than 5 percent drilling or no drilling whatsoever, but the plan has not been finalized, Blackstun said.

Currently, in the 77,000-acre area, there is no drilling, Blackstun said.

T. Wright Dickinson, a local rancher and Moffat County Land Use Board member, contends a Vermillion national monument designation could force his livestock out of the area based on National Park Service grazing policies.

"It's tremendously frustrating given the high profile nature of Moffat County and the planning processes that we've gone through already to come up with a balanced approach to conservation and public use," Dickinson said. "It seems there is a complete lack of respect for local input."

Salazar addressed the concerns of locals by stating in the release that "new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local effort to better manage places that are important to nearby communities."

Comstock said he is concerned about "misinformation" being factored into a decision.

"I know they're basing that proposal on factually incorrect data," he said.

The internal document leaked pegged Vermillion Basin as "a critical migration corridor and winter ground for big game species such as elk … in addition to being vital sage grouse habitat," with "whitewater rivers."

The commission states "the Colorado Division of Wildlife does not recognize Vermillion Basin as hosting significant sage grouse habitat, or an elk winter range … and no rivers exist in Vermillion Basin," in the letter to Salazar.

Organizations, such as the Colorado Environmental Coal­ition, are not concerned with specific designations, as much as it is "preserving the natural character of one of the West's greatest assets," CEC Northwest Campaign Coordinator Luke Schafer said.

"We've been working for decades here in Northwest Colorado discussing permit designations and believe Vermillion has amazing and outstanding qualities to it that are unparalleled across the west. Any proposal for any development of Vermillion basin is rather foolhardy."

Other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission:

■ Approved, 3-0, warrant resolutions for the month of February totaling $328,564.73.

■ Approved, 3-0, a monthly treasurer’s report.

■ Approved, 3-0, a Department of Local Affairs certification of compliance for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office.

■ Approved, 3-0, an intergovernmental agreement for operation of the Craig/Moffat County Airport between the city of Craig and Moffat County.

■ Approved, 3-0, an amendment to Affiliated Computer Services service and rental agreement with the treasurer’s office for printers.

■ Approved, 3-0, a contract totaling $1,500 for online EDEN accounting system training.

■ Approved, 3-0, an ALL DATA database subscription purchase agreement with the Road and Bridge Department.

■ Approved, 3-0, a sand and gravel lease with Kennecott Colorado Coal Company.

■ Approved, 3-0, a resolution authorizing The Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees to negotiate and execute a lease with the U.S. Veterans Administration.

■ Approved, 3-0, a bid from Desert Mountain Corporation to supply the Road and Bridge Department with magnesium chloride for dirt roads.

■ Approved, 3-0, a bid from Craig Ford for the sheriff’s office to purchase an SUV patrol vehicle in the amount of $20,561.84.

■ Approved, 3-0, a revised Moffat County employee handbook.

■ Approved, 3-0, a resolution to allow off-highway vehicles to operate on all Moffat County roads.

■ Approved, 3-0, to allocate the remaining 50 percent of revenue received from national forest payments to the Moffat County School District in the amount of $25,996.19.

■ Heard a presentation from John Conley on the Statewide Internet Portal Authority.

■ Heard an elected officials report.

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