Debate over Hubbard Mesa continues
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is open to hearing from user groups concerning possible management options at Hubbard Mesa, but with no options officially on the table, any conversations prior to a public review period in the fall will likely do little to expedite the process.
That was the intention Monday when Garfield County commissioners agreed to try and facilitate a meeting in the near future between the federal agency and various user groups concerned with safety and continued access to the open space — an area that allows uninhibited access to user groups.
The BLM recently announced it would consider including management options in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for the Roan Plateau in response to safety concerns, primarily from members of the mountain bike community, regarding errant target shooting in the area. A draft of the plan is expected to be released for public review in the fall.
After an initial dialogue involving representatives from various user groups at Rifle City Hall last week, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, who also attended the meeting, agreed to take the issue before the county with hopes of speeding up the process.
“I’ll do my best to say, ‘We have a problem here; can you help find a solution?’” Samson said, adding that he intended to directly or indirectly reach out to the BLM with hopes of organizing a meeting in the next 30 days.
While the BLM is open to hearing from members of the community, the most efficient approach would be to have that discussion during the public review once the draft is released, explained David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialist. Any change requires a land use plan decision, and since the Roan Plateau SEIS is already under way, it represents the most efficient means to addressing the issue, although, it is understandable that people would like a quicker solution.
“By design, it’s done so that we involve all the interested parties in the decision,” Boyd said on the public review period.
He declined to comment on specific management options, but said that the BLM is not considering drastic changes to existing uses.
However, there are still concerns from certain users that the process could result in reduced access. Aside from potential limitations to target shooters and firearm enthusiasts, motorized vehicle users are worried that they could be on the receiving end of potential changes, said Susan Nichols-Alvis, secretary and president of the White River Trail Runners ATV/UTV club.
Many of the club members were initially concerned with this issue because they are also firearm owners, but the growing worry surrounds motorized vehicle access.
“When certain users start complaining, it’s usually the motorized users who get shut down,” she said. That would be an unthinkable pill to swallow in the case of Hubbard Mesa, where the club hosts annual cleanups, removing tons of trash and debris in the process, Nichols-Alvis added.
“Nobody has helped with the trash,” she said.
It would not be unheard of for motorized vehicle users to come out on the losing end in a land-use dispute, said Brandon Siegfried, with the Public Land Access Association, a organization that advocates for access to federal lands. If there are genuine safety concerns among multiple user groups, the community has to sit down and have that conversation, with all parties involved, he added.
Without commenting on specific management options, Boyd said the Hubbard Mesa open area is the only area managed by the Colorado River Valley Field Office that is completely open for Off-Highway-Vehicle use — meaning OHVs are not confined to trails or restricted within the open space.
“Maintaining the open OHV status for this area is especially important to us,” he said.
Sean Strode, with the Rifle Area Mountain Biking Association, who also attended the meeting at City Hall last week, said he believes safety can be improved in the area without restricting access to specific user groups. Strode is one of the members of the local mountain biking community in contact with the BLM concerning safety issues with errant target shooting.
“I think it is something that we can all share and share safely,” he said.
While Nichols-Alvis is pleased the county is taking an interest in the issue, she is skeptical that one user group, whether the firearm community or OHV riders, will not be negatively impacted.
Samson, who said he went target shooting in the area this past weekend, is confident that the issue can be resolved.
“I feel very positive we can work it out,” he said.
Boyd encouraged all interested parties to voice their concerns during the public comment period.
“I want to emphasize again that the public will absolutely have the opportunity to give us their ideas during the public comment period, and that we will not be locked into what will be proposed in the draft,” he said.
Any changes resulting from the SEIS are not expected to be implemented until late in 2016.
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