County Beat: December 27, 2018

RBC | Hours before non-essential federal employees were due to be sent home without pay Friday, the RBC Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), in a work session prior to a special meeting, heard and reacted to proposed White River Field Office (WRFO) amendments to the local Resource Management Plan (public land travel restrictions). WRFO employees Heather Sauls, resource specialist, and Deputy Field Office Manager Kyle Arnold presented for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The discussion with the BOCC was a continuation of a work session agenda item from the commissioners’ meeting in Rangely on Dec. 17. BLM’s proposals follow three years of public input and travel inventory work.

The PowerPoint presentation by Sauls and Arnold was not available online at press time due to the government shutdown. In short, the WRFO is moving to formalize further travel management restrictions on certain areas and uses in our resource area. Their proposed plan amendments will go through further review processes in the coming year. Sauls and Arnold stressed that the route changes they are looking at affect only some 19 miles of road access out of some 4,500 in the field office area and are limited to about six wilderness-like, relatively small areas, three of which are actually in Moffat County.

The BOCC has drafted a letter—still under review—expressing concern with any additional restrictions which have “the potential to seriously impact…economic viability.” The board is also encouraging BLM to create parking areas on public land for certain areas where the public is now inappropriately using private land.

In addition, commissioners also expressed concern about requiring 18 inches of snow cover before snowmobiles would be allowed to travel off designated routes, i.e., travel cross-country, pointing out that there hasn’t been that much snow cover on BLM lands in western RBC for many years. BLM is acting to protect cultural resources as well as sensitive plant species, Sauls said.

Sauls and Arnold reminded the commissioners that BLM has to be responsive to national interests, as well as local, citing comments from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a sportsmen’s public lands advocacy group, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, who claim, similarly, to be a “voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.” Both argue for some roadless hunting opportunities as well as wise management in general.

Commissioner-elect Gary Moyer was present for the Friday session as a member of the public, and asserted to BLM that they are required, by law, to be consistent with RBC’s land use plan—drafted by the conservation districts and approved by the BOCC—and that any inconsistency with that plan has to be legally defended. Sauls told Moyer she is well aware of that, that she had just re-read the county plan, and that BLM does not believe their proposals are in contradiction to that plan.

Moyer suggested that it’s all a matter of interpretation. He expressed growing frustration in getting one answer from Washington, D.C., and another locally. Moyer stated that if national groups are looking for wilderness characteristics, BLM should send them upriver to Forest Service locales.

Specifically, BLM is looking to make improvements in parking at the termina of County Roads 60, 84A, at Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area access points, and Pike Ridge. Slight travel management changes are also proposed in Indian Valley, Whiskey Creek, Coal Ridge, Big Ridge, Upper Coal Oil Rim, and Pinto Gulch. A public protest period on the changes is due to be open in April.

Among other business in Rangely Dec, 17, the BOCC held a public hearing on a proposal from Bob Regulski for a minor, two-lot subdivision of his Sleepy Cat property on the White River at the mouth of Elk Creek. This proposal had been presented and approved at the RBC Planning Commission meeting in Meeker on Dec. 11. At that meeting, Planning Commission member Adair Norman of Rangely asked Regulski if he was the one “who had stolen our [wonderful Sleepy Cat] restaurant from us?” Regulski responded that the restaurant was closed when he purchased the property about 10 years ago, but that he’d love to bring it back someday. The commissioners approved the minor subdivision with the conditions recommended by the planning commission on a unanimous vote.