Protecting public lands for generations to come

Orginally published in the 2017 Gunnison Country Hunting Magazine

Coalition aims to ensure Gunnison Country’s wildness

by Kevin Alexander

Delicious! A word often muttered between bites when having dinner at one of our friends’ houses. The meal often includes waterfowl, small game or big game, but of all of the meats that I have shared in, I think bighorn sheep has been my favorite, and I can see why the first Americans in this area carved its image into rocks. 

My teenage daughter is quite the huntress and outdoors person who has explored much of the public lands of the Gunnison Country. She comments that strangers are often “weirdly impressed” when they learn that she is a huntress. She says she most enjoys the accomplishment of hunting and the meal that it provides.

My son seems near indestructible, and I can take him into some the gnarliest backcountry fishing streams on public lands to access trout that may have never seen a fly. To me and my family, hunting and angling supports not only some of our requirements for healthy and delicious meals, but also weaves the fabric of our social, mental, spiritual and physical health and wellness. It is one of the many bonds within our family and with our friends. But these experiences — the personal satisfaction and the meals ripe with friendship, fun, stories and family time — have their beginning in the wildness on public lands.

Fortunately, we live where we have access to public lands and can enjoy this productive wildness and its many benefits to our health and wellness. Despite its resilient and enduring nature, our landscape is changing. Our human population is growing, the backcountry has become more accessible, and the pressure on our natural resources continues to rise. e values that these public lands provide can be lost or diminished.

Knowing that Gunnison County is growing and changing, it is important as a community to create
a long-term vision for the future of our public lands. Healthy public lands are critical for sustaining our hunting and angling culture and economy.

My wellness — developed through my connection to wildlife through my food and experiences — is one of the many values that I personally get from our public lands and which I do not want to lose for myself, my family or for future generations.

These values and our experiences on the public lands in the Gunnison Country motivated me to volunteer my time by working with the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI). The GPLI is our opportunity to speak up for the future of our public lands in Gunnison County. The GPLI is a coalition of 10 organizations: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, Gunnison County Sno Trackers, Gunnison Trails, Gunnison Valley O.H.V. Alliance of Trailriders, High Country Conservation Advocates, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

The organizations and the constituents that they represent believe we should have a vision for the future of our public lands and are working to ensure that key public lands in Gunnison County are protected; safeguarding our trails, habitat, and recreation, as well as prime hunting and angling opportunities. Not to mention, all of these healthy, productive and resilient landscapes are beautiful to look at whether you are on your porch, on the road, on a bicycle or on a hike.

The interests represented in the GPLI coalition differ at times but through open and honest conversations, we have all found the common ground that makes Gunnison County feel like home — our public lands. The conversation that turned into the GPLI started back in 2012 when Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet stated: “any conversation about managing Gunnison County public lands must begin with the voices of the local community — those who live here, who know the land and whose economic future depends on these areas.”

I was present at one of those initial meetings where we took Sen. Bennet and his family to see some of the public lands in the West Elks. I have also followed up with expressing my family’s benefits from well-managed Gunnison County public lands to staff members for Sen. Cory Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton.

Conversations have been ongoing since then, and as of June 2017, the GPLI has released an initial proposal for additional public land protections in Gunnison County. As a sportsmen’s representative for Trout Unlimited and a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, working with the GPLI allows us to think about the long-term protections necessary to make sure that we preserve coldwater fisheries and the various landscapes from alpine tundra to the sagebrush shrublands that support wildlife populations.

In crafting this proposal, the coalition has set out to leave a lasting legacy that ensures we’ve set aside areas for wildlife and clean water, our growing recreation economy, the continuation of our ranching heritage, and to ensure that our native species will have undeveloped lands to migrate to as their ranges shift with climate change. is proposal is intended to benefit us all.

The proposal includes a combination of new wilderness and Special Management Areas (SMAs). Wilderness designations protect undeveloped lands and water from all extractive, motorized and mechanized use. Realizing that some lands deserve protection but aren’t appropriate for wilderness designation, we also proposed several SMAs — which provide permanent legislative direction of public lands to protect and provide for important conservation, recreation, ranching and scientific values and uses.

For example, near Matchless Mountain along the northern edge of the Taylor River, we proposed a section of wilderness where it is roadless and has appropriate wilderness characteristics. However, we also proposed an adjoining SMA that protects its wildness, allows for current trails, and the appropriate tools to be used for managing bighorn sheep populations. A wilderness designation in those areas, for example, would have made wildlife management bureaucratically challenging.

The initial proposal represents many hours of work understanding current, on-the-ground uses of our public lands, outreach to those outside of our groups, and extensive compromises and agreements to nd solutions that could be supported by all group members. From the outset, the group agreed to make all decisions with consensus. In other words, for a recommendation to be included it had to achieve unanimous approval from all the representative organizations.

Every organization participating in the group made compromises to craft a proposal that could be supported by this diverse group and the public that they represent. We’ve spent the past year-and-a-half working to build this initial proposal. We hope to refine the proposal in the coming months with the help of you and others with interest in public lands to ensure the proposal is representative of the whole community. Reaching out for feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders is the mainstay of our work.

Check out our website at www.gunnisonpubliclands.org to view a map of our proposal areas, sign a public letter of support, or provide feedback on our proposal. We need your help to protect the clean water, vibrant economy, rich ranching heritage, healthy wildlife, and fabulous recreation that make Gunnison County such an amazing place. Enjoy this hunting season and reap the benefits of food, friendship and health that the well-managed public lands in the Gunnison Country can provide. Cheers. 

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