Draft management plan balances protection of wilderness areas and quiet recreation in Western Colorado: Initial review identifies opportunities for improvement

May 17, 2013

View from above the Big Dominguez Creek, looking into Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area.

By Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society

A draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominguez Canyon Wilderness  near Grand Junction, CO would improve land management efforts and provide a sustainable path for the area over the next 20 years. Initial reviews of the draft plan show improvements in transportation routes that provide access to recreation opportunities in the Wilderness and NCA while preserving many quiet use experiences and the sights and sounds of nature.

“This plan is the culmination of engaging local citizens and the general public in a way that encourages input,” said Phil Hanceford, associate attorney at The Wilderness Society. “It shows that the BLM can and should find ways to promote balanced management of America’s conservation heritage by reaching out to the people that own these lands—all of us.”

The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, part of 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. The area is known for its scenic views of the Gunnison River carving its way through the canyons and providing a home for desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles and a number of other wildlife species.

The pinyon-juniper–covered lands are also valued by Ute Tribes and are an important connection to their ancestral past. The Wilderness Society and conservation partners are pleased to see that the BLM plans for designating “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 Dominguez-Escalante is one of the crown jewels of the BLM public lands,” said Hanceford. “We will seek to improve several aspects of this draft in hopes of supporting the final plan as a model for Conservation Lands in Colorado and the nation.”

Opportunities for improvement in the plan include:

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

“Now is the time for the BLM to get it right because this plan will be used to manage this spectacular landscape for decades to come,” said Luke Schafer, Western Slope Advocacy Director for Conservation Colorado. “The months ahead provide an opportunity for citizens to ensure their voice is heard and to engage in a process that allows them to contribute their thoughts about how the NCA should be managed. Eco-tourism is a major economic driver in western Colorado and the BLM’s plan needs to reflect how important the NCA is to the future of those who live in and visit Western Colorado.”

Today’s draft plan release opened up a 90 day comment period that will also include public open houses to provide information and an opportunity to comment on the draft plan. The public can stop by anytime between 4:30-7:30 p.m. for the following open houses:

  • June 17 at the Colorado Mesa University Center
  • June 19 at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center
Phil Hanceford
(303) 650-5818 ext. 122