Bureau of Land Management wants your input on plan to protect wilderness areas in western Colorado

Known for its breathtaking scenery, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is one of the finest examples of the spectacular canyon country in western Colorado.

mypubliclands, flickr

Colorado's western slope has something for everyone. Home to a number of forests, national monuments and conservation areas, places like the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominguez Canyon Wilderness are special to hunters, campers, researchers and cycling enthusiasts alike.

In order to preserve Colorado's natural resources for current and future generations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has created a draft resource management plan to oversee these diverse wildlands in a way that balances their outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation uses.

Now, the BLM is asking for the public's input regarding additional improvements that can be made to the plan.

The Bureau of Land Management is finalizing their plan of how to keep this magnificent area healthy and vibrant for generations to come, and they need to hear your voice!

Photo: mypubliclands, flickr

Initial reviews of the BLM's plan show improvements in transportation routes that provide access to recreation opportunities in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, while also preserving many quiet use experiences and the sights and sounds of nature.

The plan could also protect the region's historic Native American sites, as well as some of the wildlife in the area. Additionally, Cottonwood Creek could eventually be protected as a National Wild and Scenic River, if properly managed for the wildlife and plants that rely on this special waterway.

The Wilderness Society believes even more opportunities for improvement exist, such as:

  • Expanding Areas of Critical Environment Concern (ACECs): While we’re glad the BLM designated ACECs to protect Colorado hookless cactus and other important plants found in the National Conservation Area (NCA), the BLM should expand ACEC designations to protect cultural and paleontological resources as well.
  • Expanding inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics and protecting all wilderness-quality lands in the final plan, including Gunnison Slopes and Escalante Slopes. (The BLM fulfilled its obligation to identify  lands with wilderness characteristics throughout the NCA and identified 21,816 acres of lands with wilderness characteristics. The BLM is considering protecting these lands in the draft plan.

Storm brewing over the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Photo: Phil Hanceford

About the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area

The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, part of the BLM’s system of National Conservation Lands, is 210,012-acres of red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs and contains geological and paleontological resources as well as many cultural and historic sites. Part of this management area includes the 66,280-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness.

Dominguez-Escalante is renowned for its scenic views of the Gunnison River, which carves its way through the canyons and provides a home for desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles and a number of other wildlife species. The Gunnison River also provides great boating opportunities, and even features a world-class extreme kayaking spot called the Potholes Recreation Area!

Photo: mypubliclands, flickr

The conservation area hosts a variety of vegetation, including threatened plants like the Colorado hookless cactus. It is also home to important nesting areas for water birds like great blue herons, geese, ducks and sandhill cranes. Raptors, including eagles, falcons, hawks and owls are often seen hovering over the Gunnison River in search of prey. Tree lizards, northern leopard frogs, the red spotted toad and a range of fish including the native speckled dace and trout thrive in local waterways. Populations of blue grouse, wild turkey and the Gunnison sage-grouse as well as big game herds such as desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and pronghorn also make this region a wildlife gathering place or sorts and very popular for hunting in the backcountry.

Photo: mypubliclands, flickr

Dominguez-Escalante's pinyon juniper-covered lands are also valued by Ute Tribes, as they are an important connection to their ancestral past.

Ancient petroglyphs tell a story in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Photo: Phil Hanceford

Together, the conservation area and wilderness area provide visitors with a chance to experience some of best canyon country in Colorado.  One of the big draws to the conservation area is the abundant evidence of ancient civilizations, including many petroglyphs and archaeological sites left behind from native settlers thousands of years ago. 

The Bureau of Land Management is finalizing their plan of how to keep this magnificent area healthy and vibrant for generations to come, and they need to hear your voice!

The Wilderness Society and conservation partners are pleased that the BLM has plans to designate “Heritage Areas” and a “Watchable Wildlife Area” to preserve historic sites, prehistoric rock art, Native American traditional uses and iconic wildlife species to ensure heritage and wildlife tourism continue to be an important economic driver in western Colorado.

The BLM will continue to craft a plan to manage these unique places in the coming weeks and months. We urge all members of the public to submit their comments and suggestions for improvement while the BLM is still gathering public input for their plan.