Successful Step for Colorado’s North Fork Valley

Marking a huge milestone in an 18-month organizing effort, Western Slope Conservation Center and an array of local stakeholders in the Paonia, CO region have successfully asked the local BLM office to analyze and include their “North Fork Alternative” in the region’s Resource Management Plan (RMP) process.

BLM staff agreed to include the citizen-based plan as one in a range of options to update the Uncompahgre Field Office RMP, which guides management for 3.1 million acres of public land in Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties in southwest Colorado. Gunnison Gorge and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Areas, part of the National Conservation Lands, are nearby and downstream from the region covered by the RMP.

The group’s goal was to provide the BLM with an option that would best protect economic livelihoods, the valley’s rich habitat and scenic beauty, a quality of life that has drawn people to the region, and protect balanced mining and oil and gas development.

Western Slope Conservation Center’s staff and board have been leaders in this advocacy work, which called for huge helpings of patience, persistence and professionalism. Early in the process, the group and its partners succeeded in getting more than 3,000 comments submitted on the first draft of the RMP. Just a few weeks later, the group also asked the BLM staff to postpone the sale of oil and gas leases—since those lease decisions were based on guidance from the old 1989 RMP. Two hundred residents turned out to hear BLM staffers explain the lease sale, and the story made the New York Times.

Many more meetings, calls-to-action—even an ecoflight to see the region by aircraft—followed. All of this required steady and consistent communication between diverse interests in the community. Staff and board members of the Western Slope Conservation Center were especially diligent and clear in their communications about the issue to their members and supporters—via newsletter, the group’s website and in person. Their work has paid off.

Steven Hall, a BLM spokesman in Denver, emailed a statement to E&E, a national environmental and energy policy journal, stating “RMPs include a range of alternatives for public comment. By including the North Fork Valley proposal in the draft, the public will have an opportunity to review the proposal and comment. The BLM is committed to an open, transparent planning process, and this will ensure that everyone will have an opportunity to see what is being proposed, what the impacts are and to provide BLM with their input.”

A final RMP for this part of Colorado is many months away, but this is a strong step in that process. Meanwhile, Western Slope Conservation Center members will continue their home-grown activism and service to their community—with recycling programs, river restoration projects, support for responsible coal mining, natural gas issues, organizing hundreds of public events and outings, sustaining more than a decade of water quality sampling, and stewarding public lands throughout Colorado’s North Fork of the Gunnison River and Lower Gunnison watersheds.

(Waterfall and rock art in Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Photos by Bob Wick, BLM)

(Waterfall and rock art in Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Photos by Bob Wick, BLM)

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