Public Lands coalition unveils revised plan

Changes made to 2017 draft based on feedback

Gunnison Country Times

Will Shoemaker

Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) last week released a revised proposal for greater protection of local landscapes. The plan includes 452,221 acres of federal public lands recommended by consensus of the group for protection as either special management areas (SMAs) or wilderness.

While wilderness designation is more restrictive, SMAs could allow for mechanized (such as mountain biking) and motorized use. The end goal is legislation passed by Congress which would permanently protect the identified lands.

In 2012, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet expressed a willingness to sponsor legislation seeking additional protection for public lands in Gunnison County. Subsequently, GPLI unveiled an initial draft in 2014.

However, in June 2017, an expanded and more diverse GPLI coalition — including representation from 10 advocacy groups, from mountain bikers and hikers to hunters and snow- mobilers — released its rec- ommendation. Since then, the group has sought to engage the community in a conversation about the proposal.

“For the most part, key stakeholder groups and community members in and around the Gunnison Basin have voiced support for the GPLI’s consensus proposal,” GPLI indicated in a statement last week.

Major changes in the latest rendition of recommended protections include a reduction in wilderness designation in the area of Poverty Gulch north of Crested Butte to allow for existing winter motorized use; pro- posing to protect Whetstone Mountain as an SMA rather than a combination of SMA and wilderness; moving the current West Elk Wilderness boundary farther west to allow for safe pas- sage of winter motorized users over Ohio Pass; and scaling back of the original wilderness recommendation for East and West Beckwith mountains to minimize conflict with winter motorized use, in addition to numerous others.

Terry Peterson, president of Gunnison County Sno Trackers snowmobile club, has been part of GPLI for the last three years. While some areas eyed for protection would prohibit snowmobiling if the recommendations are enacted, Peterson said he “tried to keep the most popular areas open.”

The process was a “compromise all the way around,” Peterson acknowledged, but noted that in public land protection and travel management discussions, snowmobilers are “giving up ground. We’re never gaining anything.”

In addition to multiple recommended wilderness additions, the latest proposal includes three new wilderness areas — including for East Cement Mountain, Timbered Hill and Star Peak to the north, and Matchless Mountain west of Taylor Park Reservoir.

“The intent for the initial GPLI proposal was largely centered on wildlife,” explained Project Director Maddie Rehn, noting that other forms of recreation currently exist in areas previously eyed for wilderness designa- tion. “We had a lot of discussions about how to balance those two values.”

GPLI also has identified areas “in discussion” — lands on the outskirts of the Gunnison Valley for which the group didn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation. They include, for example, Mendicant Ridge and Curecanti Creek northwest of Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Rehn said there’s likely to be another draft that incorporates decisions by GPLI for those areas still in discussion.

“We are not yet drafting any legislation at this point,” Rehn said.

GPLI PROPOSAL

> Does not close any roads or trails that are currently open; existing trail uses would remain essentially the same.

> Allows future trail projects to be considered for con- struction and management through standard agency decision making by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

> Does not affect popular over-the-snow riding areas.

> Seeks to balance interests of motorized, mechanized and quiet recreational uses.

> Ensures that current ranch- ing operations and water use can continue.

> Seeks to protect critical habitat for species such as mule deer and elk, while pro- viding flexibility for habitat restoration projects for spe- cies such as bighorn sheep and Gunnison Sage-grouse.

To learn more about the pro- posal, visit www.gunnisonpubliclands.org.


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