BLM open house asks for public input | PostIndependent.com

BLM open house asks for public input

John SchroyerPost Independent Staff

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hosted an open house Wednesday evening as a way to augment their current study, a resource management plan (RMP) that could conceivably affect water rights to huge segments of the Colorado River.Depending on what the BLM finds and what recommendations it decides to make to Congress and the Secretary of the Interior, parts of the Colorado River could be reclassified as “wild, scenic, or recreational.” Any segment so designated would gain new protections under federal law.Which is exactly what Ken Neubecker would like to see.Right now, said Neubecker, “there really aren’t any protections.” At least for most of Colorado’s waterways. The only segment of river that is federally protected is a small chunk of the Cache la Poudre River. Thirty miles of that is designated as wild, 46 as recreational.Neubecker, who’s worked with the wildlife activist organization Trout Unlimited for 14 years, says that one of the problems with the current situation is that it simply doesn’t offer enough protection of water rights.”These waters belong to the public, the public has a right to them,” Neubecker said.But often enough, more so with tributaries than with the main Colorado, private land owners will divert streams or dam them up in order to feed their crops or cattle. And the government, more often than not, says Neubecker, pretty much lets them get away with it because there’s no clear law stating whether landowners have absolute rights to any water running through their land.”There’s a real big argument over whether that’s legal or not,” Neubecker said.In the long term, the recommendations the BLM makes to Congress could have a bearing on that. But even if it does, it won’t be for a while.The current schedule calls for the BLM to hand their findings over to the federal government sometime in 2009, and if they do a “suitability” study on different parts of the river, that will take even longer.Even after the findings are handed in, there’s no guarantee that Congress or the Secretary of the Interior will take any action.”We do our study and hand it in and then it becomes a political matter,” said Kay Hopkins, a BLM outdoor recreation planner.In other words, Congress could simply choose to sit on the BLM’s advice and do nothing. After all, as Neubecker points out, it’s happened before, with the Deep Creek study.”Deep Creek is one of the areas the BLM deemed suitable, and nothing’s been done with that,” Neubecker said.Which is why Hopkins is quick to caution anyone from jumping to any conclusions about the study and its implications.”We just started. This is very preliminary,” she said.Still, Hopkins said she encourages the public to get involved with the process.”We’re showing the public (what we’re doing), and we’re asking the public, ‘Is there anything we’ve missed?'” she said.Public advice and usage is taken into account, as are the observations of BLM personnel and other interstate agencies. All this data is compiled and weighed carefully before any decisions are made, Hopkins said.”It’s not done in a vacuum,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just somebody in-house going, this area’s cool, we’re going to protect this.”Hopkins stressed that the only lands that will be impacted by the study will be public lands.”We’re not talking about private lands here,” Hopkins said.Contact John Schroyer: 945-8515, ext. 529jschroyer@postindependent.com


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