In February 2016, the Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners, in collaboration with the office of U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, convened a community-based working group to explore the possibilities of additional public lands protections for Gunnison County.
This working group will roll out recommendations for area public lands protections, and the public is invited to share thoughts and suggestions on Tuesday, June 20 at the Gunnison Arts Center from 6 to 8 p.m., hosted by the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative.
The goal of the working group, now known as the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI), is to protect public lands, enhance a strong and sustainable economy, and support historic uses of public lands in Gunnison County. To accomplish this goal, the GPLI aims to create a successful legislative proposal for public land designations that is technically sound, includes public input and comments, and best serves the community and the public for future generations
From February 2016 to June 2017, the GPLI met monthly to discuss a public lands proposal that will protect community values, take into account the various needs of user groups, and provide long-lasting stability to key public lands in the Gunnison County area.
“Gunnison County residents are passionate about their public lands,” said Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck. “Despite coming from different backgrounds and representing different user groups, the common thread of knowing long-term protections and wise use of public lands is in all of our best interest. Through listening, understanding, and collaboration, the working group has honed a proposal that they are excited to share with the community.”
The GPLI has crafted a unified, consensus-based proposal that includes using a combination of proposed wilderness areas and special management areas designations for portions of public lands in Gunnison County. To implement the designations, federal legislation is required.
“This community-based working group has dedicated more than a year to crafting a set of recommendations to respect existing land uses and preserve the public land for future generations,” U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said. “With many local contributions, the proposal reflects the community’s range of priorities for public land management. This is a great step forward for Gunnison County and will serve as a valuable foundation as we continue to work towards crafting a bill.”
Tony Prendergast, representing Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, added, “The collegiality between working group members really smoothed the way for having honest discussions about where user interests conflicted, and how we could craft compromises and solutions that struck the best balance.”
The GPLI coalition consists of representatives from ten organizations, including Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, Gunnison County Sno Trackers, Gunnison Valley O.H.V Alliance of Trailriders (GOATs), Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, Gunnison Trails, High Country Conservation Advocates, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.
“This process has been powerful because of the collaboration, the careful listening, and the respectful consideration that everyone involved gave to the other users and stakeholders, many of whom often held different or opposing perspectives,” said Dave Wiens of Gunnison Trails.
Bruce Allen, the Gunnison Stockgrowers representative, said, “I very much appreciate the dialog that this process has facilitated among various user groups of public lands. As use of public lands in the valley increases, it is important to those of us who have been working within these landscapes for generations that our entire community is proactive in coordinated planning to address the changes those impacts will require”.
After 17 months of discussion, hard-won compromises, and extensive research into public lands, the initial proposal is meant to give the Gunnison County community a solid and carefully vetted outline of what public lands legislation could include in Gunnison County.
High Country Conservation Advocates is appreciative of the community spirit that drove the working group process and is optimistic about the future of the GPLI. “Public lands are the cornerstone of our local economy and way of life, and we look forward to working with the public to ensure their sustainability into the future,” said Matt Reed, public lands director for High Country Conservation Advocates.
Terry Peterson from Gunnison County Sno Trackers adds, “I think this is a process that needs to be shared by all user groups and personally I wanted to be involved so that I have a say in how we develop our public lands, what we want to save, and where we want different activities to occur.”
The GPLI recognizes that to fine-tune and improve this proposal, community feedback is crucial. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.