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Sand Wash Basin impresses foreign visitors

BLM officials tutor Latin American colleagues on land management


“We want to expose these land managers to different concepts about resource management that may not be in their countries yet, but might be coming there.”

— Wendy Reynolds, manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office, on this week’s visit to Craig from Latin American colleagues

Jose Vistoso, a Chilean native, stood Wednesday afternoon in the middle of Sand Wash Basin in western Moffat County, far from his own home.

Still, the visitor said he felt fortunate to be there.

"It's an awesome experience for all of us and it's been very important to me to participate in the program," Vistoso said. "It makes me very happy because my organization is very, very proud of me."

Vistoso, a park guard coordinator for the Valdivian Coastal Reserve in Valdivia, Chile, and 21 other public land managers from Latin America are in the midst of a 32-day course through the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University.

As part of the course, participants arrived Wednesday in Craig to receive an education on management of multiple use lands from the Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake Field Office.

"We want to expose these land managers to different concepts about resource management that may not be in their countries yet, but might be coming there," said Wendy Reynolds, Little Snake Field Office manager. "Or, different ways of managing multiple use land so they can understand how we do it here and maybe apply it to some of their parks and natural resource areas."

Jim Wurz, one of the directors/interpreters of the Spanish-taught course, is a CSU faculty member and has been involved with the program for 20 of its 21 years.

The course was developed in 1990 to address a lack of experience among field managers in Latin America.

"We pull the 22 best and brightest field managers from a variety of countries who were put in a position of responsibility but didn't have much management or field experience," Wurz said. "And we expose them to a broad range of different management concepts."

The course is not for tourists, Wurz said.

Wurz and his staff select the 22 students out of a pool of 120 to 160 applicants.

Reynolds directed the morning portion of Wednesday's visit, which included a presentation by Little Snake Field Office staff on how they manage a variety of circumstances on public lands such as the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas.

"Fire was also a key component of our conversation because we don't always suppress it," Reynolds said. "We use it as a tool, which is foreign to them."

The main theme of the Craig trip was blending multiple land uses, such as energy, extraction, recreation and grazing, on a single piece of protected land, regardless of how vast.

"They are very interested in how we monitor things, how we analyze things to make decisions because they don't necessarily have to follow all of the same types of federal regulations that we do," Reynolds said.

Vistoso agreed.

"The work of the BLM is very interesting because it is the organization that is responsible for the many decisions about the management of the resources," he said. "In Chile, a number of organizations are responsible for the management of the resources. I think this model is better because decisions can be made faster."

The visiting group soon moved into the field, where recreation specialist Shane Dettlinger was joined by rangeland management specialist Mark Lowrey in leading a discussion on how the BLM blends multiple use initiatives at Sand Wash Basin.

It's difficult to put a number on how large the protected land at Sand Wash Basin is because it bends and snakes around private land, Reynolds said.

That's a big reason why Wurz said he brings students to the area.

"It's not enough to have publicly-owned land. It's important that there be ranch land around as well," he said. "Having public and private land that are adjacent to each other helps enhance grazing for ranchers and also ensures that there are large corridors that wildlife can use and where ecosystems can operate more or less naturally."

The visiting land managers had already been to some of the state's more treasured sights, but Reynolds sensed the group was struck by the vastness of Sand Wash Basin.

"They're seeing this for the first time and everything you see, as far as the eye can see, is public land," she said. "That is a huge impact because for a lot of them the public land that they manage is small. It's not, wow, like this."

Vistoso said he was impressed with the scene.

"It's like a trip into the future," he said. "Maybe it will be possible in the next 20 years for my country to be ready to manage this type of protected area."

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