MONTROSE – A 90-day public comment period is open until Aug. 22 on the Bureau of Land Management’s Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness.
Collin Ewing, acting NCA Manager at the BLM’s Grand Junction field office, attended Monday’s regular meeting of the Montrose County Commissioners to present an overview of the draft documents and to ask local government representatives and community members to be a part of the process by commenting on the document.
The plan, once adopted, will guide management decisions on the 210,012-acre Dominguez-Escalante NCA, which includes the 66,280-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness area. The conservation area was created by the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, passed by Congress in 2009.
According to Ewing, that legislation stipulated that a resource and management plan for the NCA must be developed. In accordance with that, the BLM, along with the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Advisory Council, has created the Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment. The draft RMP analyzes five alternatives covering all aspects of BLM resource management within the National Conservation Area boundaries, including recreation, travel management, resource protection, wildlife habitat, special designations and livestock grazing.
The draft’s Alternative A is the “no-action” alternative and would largely continue current management practices laid out in the 1987 Grand Junction RMP and 1989 Uncompahgre RMP, as long as the management is consistent with the Omnibus Act that designated the NCA. Alternative B would be to implement active management techniques to address issues within the NCA. This alternative would restrict recreation to manage for biological conditions and cultural resource protection.
Alternative C in the draft is the active biological protection and restoration alternative. Under this option, management practices such as prescribed fires, vegetation treatments and site rehabilitation would be used extensively. Biological management goals would be emphasized as well as preservation of cultural resources. This alternative, according to BLM documents, would result in the largest reduction in recreational travel routes.
Alternative D, on the other hand, would emphasize opportunities for trail-based recreation (motorcycles, ATVs, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding). Under this option, the BLM would still pursue active biological protection and restoration but to a lesser extent than Alternative C. Alternative D would include relatively few restrictions on uses such as recreation and livestock grazing.
Alternative E is considered the BLM’s preferred alternative and seeks to create a balance within the NCA between recreation and livestock grazing with biological restoration and cultural resource protection. This alternative contains a mix of elements from all four of the other alternatives.
“The draft resource management plan does not talk about oil and gas or coal mining because the  legislation withdrew them,” Ewing said.
“We need a lot of public input and we need substantive comments on this,” he went on. “We want to understand what these [five] alternatives might have impacts on. We are hoping people will take a close look at it.”
After Ewing’s presentation to the commissioners, several members of the public spoke with frustration regarding the federal government’s control over lands they believe are owned and should be controlled by the state. Resident Roger Brown called it “repugnant” that local citizens are being invited to comment on management practices on lands the people already own.
The BLM will host two public open houses to provide information and an opportunity to comment on the draft. The public can stop by anytime between 4:30-7:30 p.m. at open houses on June 17 at the Colorado Mesa University Center in Grand Junction and on June 19 at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta.
The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Advisory Council, which is composed of ten members of the public who represent various communities and interests throughout the surrounding three-county area, will also hold meetings to discuss the Draft RMP.
“This Draft RMP is the culmination of more than two years of work by the BLM and members of the public,” Katie Stevens, manager of the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, stated in a press release. “These documents cover all aspects of our management of this special area, so this is a really important opportunity to make your voice heard about how the BLM will manage these lands.
“We’ve seen a high degree of public interest and engagement in each step of the planning process, and we expect that the interest in the area will continue through the rest of the planning process.”
The BLM will use the public comments to help develop a Proposed RMP/Final EIS, which is scheduled for release in May 2014. Comments must be received by Aug. 22.
For additional information, including how to provide comments or obtain a copy of the draft RMP, visit blm.gov/co/st/en/nca/denca/denca_rmp.html.