Janice Kurbjun
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November 7, 2011
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BLM plan could affect river access in Summit County

Both banks of a 15-mile stretch of the Blue River could come under private ownership if the Bureau of Land Management approves its preferred draft resource management plan, which grandfathers land exchanges already under way even when those properties involve river corridors. Approving the plan wouldn't make the exchange automatically happen, but makes it a better possibility.

Other land exchanges involving river banks would be excluded in the future, according to the draft plan. The federal agency is in the process of revamping its 1984 Kremmling Resource Management Plan, which doesn't govern much of Summit County, but does have impacts.

A sliver at the north end of the county and underground mineral rights on BLM, Forest Service and private land are affected, but Summit County residents also take advantage of Grand and Jackson County BLM land for recreation.

Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch called the amount of land under BLM jurisdiction "an area larger than Rhode Island," when he sought comment from the Summit County Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners haven't released a statement - particularly regarding the grandfather clause on river-associated land exchanges - but staff is identifying potential areas of impact for their review.

"There are certainly indirect effects of a huge land mass that people go to recreate on and we are one of the closest economies that's recreation-based," Lorch said.

Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier is worried about the Blue Valley Ranch land exchange, which Lorch said has been ongoing for about a decade. Public access in the 15 miles from the Green Mountain Dam to the confluence with the Colorado River would be at stake.

"We have concerns about public access to the river in these particular areas," Stiegelmeier said in a meeting last week. Currently, the Blue River Ranch allows access to the river on Spring Creek Road, and there is another takeout before the one at the confluence, Lorch said, though neither have long-term guarantees for access.

The county has a stake in the exchange decision because some of its property on Green Mountain could become part of the federal domain, Lorch said.

A Tuesday meeting in Kremmling provides a chance for the public to provide input on the Bureau of Land Management's revised management plan that governs the next two decades or more of taking land management actions and guiding site-specific decisions.

"We only revise these resource management plans about every 20 years, so we really want to hear from the public about these alternatives," BLM field manager Dave Stout said. "These open house meetings are a great opportunity for the public to learn more about the alternatives and provide us with their comments."

The public input open house is slated for 4-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service building on the Kremmling fairgrounds. It's the meeting closest to the heart of Summit County.

The plan for the Kremmling Field Office covers the 377,900 surface acres and 653,000 acres of subsurface mineral estate. It extends into Routt, Larimer and Eagle counties. It analyzes four alternatives, covering all aspects of management, including recreation, travel management, energy development, resource protection, wildlife habitat, special designations, grazing and realty actions.

The majority of the country's subsurface mineral estate is managed by the BLM - even when it's under Forest Service land - so clauses in the plan about managing mining claims and lease nominations would interest Summit County officials and residents.

In particular, the Forest Service has designated wilderness and special interest areas in its forest management plan. Special interest areas are deemed important, but don't have the same level of protection as wilderness land - areas like Hoosier and Porcupine ridges, Golden Horseshoe and McCullough Gulch.

According to Boyd and Forest Service community planner Paul Semmer, mineral estate under Forest Service wilderness is off-limits, as are ski areas and high-investment recreation areas like campgrounds, because those areas have gone through their respective protection processes. Special interest areas aren't automatically protected, though.

"We wouldn't lease something without their concurrence," Boyd said, but Semmer explained it further.

"It's a question of impacts," he said. The mineral lease proposal would undergo an Environmental Impact Statement or something like it to decide whether the lease can be granted and under what conditions. The Forest Service currently manages the forests according to a plan formalized and approved in 2002. Semmer said it's currently not undergoing any revisions.

Semmer said the Forest Service also has keen interest in how the BLM has outlined its travel management on areas adjacent to Forest Service land, particularly after the Forest Service approved its new travel management plan this year.


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 7, 2011 07:38PM Published Nov 7, 2011 12:48AM Copyright 2011 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.