Mr. Grant Edinger, manager of the Buffalo Horn Ranch submitted a letter to the editor in the May 17, 2018 edition of the Herald Times regarding the proposed BLM land swap. A response to his letter might help its readers to better understand what is at stake in this proposal initiated by a private property owner, the Buffalo Horn Ranch (BHR) in the upper Strawberry Creek area along Rio Blanco County Road 7.
As an employee of BHR, Mr. Edinger is clearly advocating for what is best for his employer and the owner of BHR. His comments are very one-sided and in praise of all the very ill-defined gains to the public. His letter fails to mention the price we the people and neighbors have to pay if this deal should become reality.
BHR has been promoting a “land exchange” since 2011. The public was invited to provide written comments in April of 2017. Those comments can be read on the BLM website. Upon review it is clear that more than 90 percent of the opinions rendered opposed the exchange, now described as “option A.” In this latest round of trying to make a deal, “option B,” which is a scaled-down version of the proposed land swap, is being heavily promoted by the owners of BHR.
Most of us are familiar with making a “deal.” When we talk about making a “deal” we usually have an outcome in mind benefiting us at the expense of the other party. This is also the case in this property exchange deal. BHR has approached the BLM over the years to engage in exchanging properties with the goal of benefiting their operation and their holdings. The reverse, with the BLM approaching BHR, has not occurred, which begs the question: who stands to gain and who stands to lose from this deal?
BHR will receive land more valuable than what they are surrendering. Our understanding is that the lands will be appraised after the land swap is approved, and at that time no further public comment will be solicited. It is worrisome that the appraised value is unknown at this time and it may result in a loss to the taxpayers. We do not have the benefit of a crystal ball in order to see what these public lands surrendered today will be appraised at again tomorrow or in 100 years. By then it will be too late to get these lands back into the hands of the public.
BHR is already impacting life up Strawberry Creek in a big way. A neighborhood of smaller ranches has been replaced by a corporate neighbor and the days are long gone when there was a sense of common goals and values. This “option B” will diminish private land values of adjacent landowners and change long established patterns of land use. For example, certain landowners will no longer border current BLM parcels of the same size, curtailing existing hunting and grazing operations. This change will be to the detriment of families who have been in this valley for more than 100 years.
Mr. Edinger states that this land exchange will increase the public’s access to BLM lands. While short-term access be may be improved, the loss of high-quality BLM land will have a longer-term effect. As BHR acquires more land, access to public lands will change in this area. Given the negative impact on its neighbors, it may become more desirable for landowners to sell to BRH, therefore giving BHR more control over access points.
In closing, a highly advantageous “deal” with the BLM to acquire desirable public lands should be regarded with a healthy degree of scrutiny. The BLM lands in Rio Blanco County provide not only recreational opportunities to the local community, but are relied on for our economy.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Albert Krueger, M.D., and
Mary K. (Villa) Krueger