Interior appeals board stays Sutey Ranch exchange
A touted deal to swap public lands for the Sutey Ranch and open about 670 acres to recreation and wildlife habitat was put on hold Thursday by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The board is the highest level for administrative appeals in the Department of the Interior.
The order came Thursday, on the same day the Bureau of Land Management was slated to close on the land exchange. The exchange would involve properties in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.
Colorado Wild Public Lands, a Basalt-based public lands advocacy group, initially protested the deal, and after the BLM denied that protest, the nonprofit submitted an appeal with IBLA in 2014.
The appeal “asserts that the appraisals for the exchange do not accurately reflect the values of the lands in the exchange; these appraisals were commissioned by the proponents and beneficiaries of the exchange, not the BLM,” the nonprofit wrote in a statement.
Despite the appeal, the BLM has been moving forward with the deal.
“In most decisions, including this one, if a stay is not granted, a BLM decision remains in effect, even if it’s under appeal,” said David Boyd, BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office public affairs specialist.
After the Post Independent published a story Wednesday about the land exchange closing, CWPL submitted a request for an injunction late that day.
“So that we can fully consider the merits of CWPL’s renewed petition, we temporarily stay BLM’s decision,” the IBLA wrote in its order.
Boyd said the BLM is reviewing the IBLA’s order and evaluating the agency’s next potential steps.
CWPL also said the BLM made its announcement about the deal’s closing without informing the nonprofit.
“[CWPL] believes this action is one more demonstration of the agency’s and the proponents’ continuing attempt to obfuscate the balance between public and private benefit in this land exchange,” the nonprofit wrote in its statement.
The BLM has promoted this deal as opening up lands for recreation and wildlife habitat — with the added benefit of the Sutey Ranch being adjacent to existing BLM land popular for recreation.
The 557-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, the biggest part of this exchange that would have become public, would have expanded the adjacent Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area. Also coming into public hands would be 112 acres on Prince Creek Road that is part of the Crown trails network southeast of Carbondale.
In exchange the BLM plans to give 1,268 acres at the base of Mount Sopris to a private ranch owned by the CEO of Victoria’s Secret, Leslie Wexner.
This stay will remain in place until March 27. If the IBLA takes no other action, the stay will expire the next day. Both the BLM and CWPL have until Feb. 24 to respond to the order.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.