County Beat: Balancing public desires with federal management of public lands

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Bringing everyone into agreement when it comes to public land use is a daunting task. Rio Blanco County is a rarity in the state: a county that has made its desires for land use management known through an official land use plan. Commissioner Gary Moyer, who did extensive work to develop the plan prior to his term as a commissioner, wants to make sure agencies like the Bureau of Land Management are abiding by the desires of the people.

Kent Walter, BLM White River Field Office District Manager, accompanied by staff, updated the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners Monday about proposed changes to the travel and transportation management plan.

Walter and BLM planner Heather Sauls explained the agency’s method for identifying areas valued as “wilderness.”

“A lot of times wilderness is an inflammatory term,” Sauls said. “It’s just mapping where we have these opportunities.”

Areas identified as wilderness must meet specific “values”: at least 5,000 acres, natural appearance, opportunity for solitude, etc. If those values exist, BLM determines how to manage that area based on a tiered plan.

Walter said 33 areas totaling about 300,000 acres have been identified by BLM as wilderness in the White River Field Office jurisdiction, which includes parts of Moffat and Garfield counties as well as most of Rio Blanco County. Of those 33 areas, 24% are considered Tier 1—managed to protect characteristics (no surface occupancy and right-of-way exclusions). Another 22% are managed to limit impacts with stipulations for controlled surface use. The remaining 54% are Tier 3 areas, managed for multiple uses.

The revised travel management plan proposes closing 19.5 miles of roads, less than half of which is in Rio Blanco County, to protect bald eagle and endangered fish habitat in riparian areas.

One of the areas identified as wilderness extends into the proposed area for the Wolf Creek Reservoir. The commissioners asked if that classification would be a possible hindrance to the reservoir’s approval.

“Working through that whole process will require a plan amendment and an EIS [environmental impact study],” Walter said.

Walter asked the board to consider supporting the proposed plan. “We’ve tried to be respectful of the county’s resource plan. You talk a lot about custom and culture. Five generations from now can we still provide these same experiences on our public lands?”

“My concern is since we just got this plan done a couple years ago we make sure it’s being abided by. If the land use plan says no more wilderness, then you respect that,” Moyer said.

“My goal today was to explain that we’re not being inconsistent with your plan. I think we’re actually closer than you may believe,” Walter said.

The proposed Travel Management Plan—in the works for three years—will go to the public for a 30-day review period in July, at which time the public will have opportunity to comment before it goes to the governor’s office for a 60-day consistency review. View the entire presentation below.

2019.04.22_Rio Blanco County Briefing_Travel RMPA

“We hope to have a decision by September,” Walter said.

In other work sessions Monday, Human Services Director Barb Bofinger said her department “has been pretty consistent,” with an uptick in the number of adult protection referrals in April.

Public Health Director Julie Drake said her department could use a Rangely-based nurse. “The back and forth breaks our efficiency,” she said.

Public Health Nurse Alice Harvey has met with the school nurse in Meeker and is attempting to connect with Rangely. Meeker has a high proportion of elementary students who are unvaccinated. With the current measles outbreaks nationwide, Drake said Public Health is working on updating its pandemic plan.

Harvey said, “There is legislation going through that will require parents to go through public health for vaccine exemptions instead of just the schools.”

Drake then told the commissioners that she has been offered a job with Providence Recovery Services in Craig—expected to open June 1—and “after much wrestling” has decided to leave public health and take the position in substance abuse treatment. She offered the commissioners a two-month transition period “so that whoever takes my position understands the role they’re stepping into” and said she was willing to negotiate. The commissioners notified Drake Monday afternoon that her last day will be May 6.

In other business:

Approved provision of wireless internet by Visionary at the R100 archery event in June.

Approved a BLM right-of-way notice related to the installation of secondary broadband towers in the Piceance Basin.

Appointed Victoria Berardi to the Columbine Park Board (Rangely).

Moved to submit into the permanent record a revised memorandum of understanding establishing the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative between the BoCC, the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy, the Wyoming Governor’s Office, Mesa and Garfield counties, and the Ute Indian Tribe. “We feel like the governor’s office is going to pull out of an [energy] agreement with Wyoming and Utah,” said Commission Chair Jeff Rector, “Hopefully this gives us a little strength as western Colorado as it comes to energy.”

Signed a letter to allow the Lions Club to serve liquor downtown or at the Fairfield Center at the Meeker Chamber’s annual meeting May 31.

Approved the purchase of 2019 Volvo dump truck with equipment for $177,991 to replace a truck wrecked while plowing snow earlier this year.

Awarded bids to United Co. for $935,956 for the Rangely district chip seal project and $190,602 for a CR 101 and CoLo building parking lot surface treatment project, also in Rangely.

Approved a contract modification on the 2019 bridge maintenance project, increasing the contract by $9,631 to $212,246 (budgeted amount was $285,000)

Approved an agreement between the board, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado to provide technical assistance for the 2019 Rio Blanco County Relocation Guide, in a total project cost of $10,000 with a 50% county match.