Groups working together to protect public lands ready to present next week

From the Crested Butte News

HCCA, CBMBA, Gunnison Trails ready to RMBL

By Aimee Eaton

At the request of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, a small handful of groups from throughout the Gunnison Valley have come together in the last year to protect public lands from future development. Now they want the public to get on board with their proposal as it moves forward into the legislative process.

In late 2012, the High Country Conservation Advocates, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Gunnison Trails began discussing opportunities for the long-term protection of the valley’s backcountry areas. Though the groups had occasionally disagreed in the past, they believed they shared a level of common ground that would allow them to work together to preserve areas they all cared about.

“As CBMBA, a large part of our mission comes in protecting trails, but we’re also super into the protection of land,” said John Chandler, CBMBA president. “Formally working for protection of the larger landscape is not something we’ve done before, but it is something we believe in. When the opportunity to collaborate with various groups in the valley came about, in part due to the local involvement of the International Mountain Biking Association, a group that sees land protection as vital, we made the decision to move forward.”

That meant looking at the protections in place for Forest Service and BLM lands in Gunnison County. The groups asked questions like: Could the lands be used for oil and gas development? And, what about road and housing development? With the answers they found, they crafted a draft proposal that could serve as a foundation for the long-term protection of public lands in the valley.

“We want to protect as much land in the valley as possible,” said Chandler. “But it should not negatively impact our trails.”

“The proposal was created with everyone’s interest in mind,” added Laure Yale, GPLI coordinator. “[It] was jointly crafted for long-term management and protection of high-quality wildlife habitat, unique backcountry trails, headwaters and vital streams, like ones that contain populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout. Each area has a different management recommendation depending on what makes sense for that area, ranging from mineral withdrawals to Special Management Areas to Wilderness designation.”

Concurrent with this proposal the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory has also developed a proposal to protect public lands in Gunnison County for scientific research. The RMBL proposal seeks to make sure that scientific research can continue to thrive and be compatible with other land uses in the Gunnison Valley, said Yale.

The HCCA/CBMBA/Gunnison Trails group and RMBL plan to send their proposals for land protection to Senator Bennett in the months ahead.

However, before they do so they are inviting the public to join in the process by commenting and providing feedback on the proposals. To facilitate this, they will hold two informal meetings, which true to local style will include free beer and maps.

The first meeting will be March 25 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Ol’ Miner Steakhouse in Gunnison; the  second will be March 26  at the Brick Oven in Crested Butte from 7:30 to 9 p.m.