Governments emphasize education at Hubbard Mesa
Educational efforts led by local governments and the Bureau of Land Management to ease user conflicts in the Hubbard Mesa area have general support among some user group representatives, but feelings on the process are less unanimous.
Those preliminary efforts stem from discussions between the city of Rifle, Garfield County and BLM. Rather than restrict uses in certain areas of the increasingly popular recreation destination near Rifle, the measures discussed by government agencies focus on education.
Garfield County commissioners last week agreed to set aside an undefined amount of money to pay for signs that, among other messages, will likely inform people of good and bad places for target shooting.
Some recreationists have been increasingly vocal about the threat of errant target shooting in the Hubbard Mesa area, which has generated protest from others, including target shooters and multi-users, who fear their uses will be unfairly limited.
Historically, the area served as a popular destination for target shooters, a point Commissioner Mike Samson stressed, as well as a dumping ground for trash — an issue that has long plagued the area.
Discussions on recreational conflicts have increased in the past year, during which BLM worked to finalize a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Roan Plateau, an area that includes Hubbard Mesa.
Acting as cooperating agencies, both the city and county weighed last winter, stating that target shooting must be addressed but not in the Roan planning documents. Since then, BLM has met several times with city and county officials to discuss solutions.
Other suggestions presented to county commissioners by two Rifle city councilors include increased enforcement by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and, in the future, possibly creating a designated shooting range or area that could encourage people to target shoot in a defined area, although establishing such a range would not prohibit target shooting elsewhere.
BLM also is looking at creating a definition for a backstop that could help with enforcement in the area. However, that would not take effect until next summer at the very earliest, said Brian Hopkins, assistant field manager for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.
Up until now, user groups have not been included in the recent discussions, a point raised by Susan Nichols-Alvis, president and secretary of the White River Trail Runners ATV/UTV club and founder of the Garfield Area Gun Enthusiasts group.
“We are deeply concerned (the city’s) direct request to you circumvents and undermines the productive and cooperative measures we’ve made with the various user groups and BLM regarding Hubbard Mesa,” Nichols-Alvis wrote in an email to commissioners. “We have all agreed to partake in upcoming meetings with said groups, and this direct request to you was not discussed with any of the user groups.”
Rifle City Councilor Ed Green, in responding to the comments at the commissioner meeting, said that was not the city’s intent. Rather, it wanted to amass resources, such as the funding for signs from the county, before going to the user groups.
Hopkins shared similar sentiments. He said that BLM wanted to have some idea of possibilities before going to the user groups and that BLM will be reaching out to user groups to discuss things such as appropriate language for signs and other educational materials.
“We are going to engage the user groups, but we weren’t going to waste their time until we had our ducks in a row,” Hopkins said.
Sean Strode, with the Rifle Area Mountain Biking Organization, said the organization has not been invited to the table, but it would welcome the opportunity to weigh in.
“We would happily be involved and contribute in anyway we can,” he said. “I know that there’s a strong contingent of mountain bikers that’s getting bigger and bigger. We want to respect other people’s activities as much as they respect ours.”
Strode said he was not aware of outrage or concern among mountain bikers regarding the current process, adding that it is still early.
In general, education efforts have support among users.
Nichols-Alvis said she met with BLM officials last fall and suggested posting signs in both English and Spanish.
“Those have been our goals the whole time — education, signage, information and what not,” she said.
However, Nichols-Alvis worries the lack of communication among user groups is indicative of a non-inclusive process moving forward, and without that communication the user groups will not know the type of language that appears on the signs.
She also questioned why the city is taking an active role on issues at a location that is outside of the municipal boundaries, especially with other issues inside city limits.
And there are lingering concerns that target shooters will eventually be restricted in where they can shoot, which could start a snowball effect with other uses, such as ATV riding, eventually being restricted, Nichols-Alvis said.
“We want equal access and equal rights for all user groups,” she said. “We do not want public lands divided and chopped up.”
Hopkins said BLM has no intention of restricting uses and those concerns, in part, are why the city went to the county to request money for the signs.
BLM needs to exercise caution regarding signs so that they are not interpreted as designated shooting areas, Hopkins said.
Unless BLM outright prohibits shooting in an area, which would require certain planning processes, shooting is generally allowed by default on BLM land. The agency has no plans of changing uses in the area.
“We’re all for maintaining those traditional uses out there and the freedom that people have to shoot and recreate out there, and I think that’s everyone’s goal … to maintain that,” Hopkins said.
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