Symposium targets land use issues | CraigDailyPress.com
Ryan Sheridan

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Symposium targets land use issues

Conflicts lead to alternative solutions being sought by local groups, residents

Land management and designation issues are some of the most controversial and intractable problems facing Colorado communities today. In Moffat County, where 60.07 percent of the land is under federal or state management, conflicts are plentiful, and solutions are few and far between.

To show how other communities have handled land management and use issues, the Moffat County Natural Resources Department hosted a Land Management Symposium, inviting residents, local agencies and local government representatives to view two presentations, and then to ask the presenters questions.

The first presentation was by Frank Stewart of the Quincy Library Group (QLG) in Chico, Calif. His group has successfully passed legislation, The Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act, that allows for effective, efficient and stakeholder-sensitive management of public lands.

The QLG used an inclusive, collaborative series of meetings over an eight-month period to form a consensus among local stakeholders on what principles should guide the management of their public lands. It was, said Stewart, a “mean, ugly, chaotic process. During that period, we hammered out our principals. All decisions were hammered out, there was nothing preconceived brought into the group.”

The QLG legislation is a five-year pilot program that concentrates on reducing fuels within National Forest managed lands.

The second presentation was by John Ford of the Idaho Federal Land Task Force. This task force is attempting to put in place alternative models of management for public lands, including land trusts. Again, the main point of the presentation was the effectiveness of collaborative and cooperative processes that can foster solutions that are both workable and litigation-proof.

The main thrust of this presentation was the creation of land trusts that list the stakeholders as beneficiaries, and this group of beneficiaries which could include federal agencies, local private industries, local recreation groups or other concerned coalitions that have legitimate claim to use form a management team. Only listed beneficiaries can sue to appeal or delay decisions or management plans. The pilot programs the Idaho Federal Land Task Force are proposing are not yet backed by legislation.

A main theme of the evening was “think outside the box,” and those who attended agreed that to think differently was an important part of breaking the stalemates over public land management.

“I think the most important point was the need to ‘think outside the box.’ We need to get away from getting hung up on traditional designations and look at alternative ways to manage our lands, to preserve and utilize them,” said Jean Stetson, Moffat County Land Use Board member and Agricultural representative. “I don’t believe in locking up lands. Not that they shouldn’t be protected, but we need to find a way to break the gridlock and achieve a balance.”

Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said alternative solutions were a necessary option and pointed out that Moffat County has used collaborative process models to deal with some land issues.

“Some of the things mentioned are extremely applicable to our issues. The collaborative processes that they’re going through are similar to some to the things we have in place here, the Yampa River Basin Partnership being an example,” Hampton said. “Our current Land Use Plan process is also very similar, with all the local input we are asking for and including. We’re not that far off, but we can learn from their examples.”

Another example of a how cooperative and collaborative efforts work locally, is the management of the Axial Basin, said Bureau of Land Management Snake River Office Director John Husband.

“We had a livestock/wildlife conflict, and through a group made up of citizen, came up with solutions that proved very successful,” Husband said. “The group now meets to review how the Coordinated Research and Management Plan worked for that year, and to see if anything should be adjusted or changed.

“We have local models of collaborative and cooperative efforts working here, and more would be beneficial. It’s a matter of handling the workload challenges and legal challenges we face.”

The idea of thinking outside the box to form collaborative and/or cooperative efforts are inviting concepts to environmental groups, and members of the The Nature Conservancy said they hope to participate in whatever proposals are crafted.

“I thought the presentations were very interesting. It would be a great idea to bring these models to Moffat County. The collaborative approach that brings environmental groups, local groups, federal agencies and private interests stands out to me as something valuable,” said Ann Davidson, manager for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Northwest Colorado Program. “The idea of trying to find a way to have these lands managed instead of all these stalled situations is a good one. It remains to be scene what role the TNC could play, but we would like to come to the table on these issues.