Cañon City, CO (June 25, 2019) – The Royal Gorge Bureau of Land Management Field Office has released a draft management plan for 658,000 acres of public lands along the Arkansas River, just west of Pueblo.

The American public has been waiting for this draft plan, officially known as the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, for more than two years. Once finalized, the plan will guide the use of resources across the region, including oil and gas development, road building, livestock, wildlife, water, cultural resources, recreation areas, and conservation areas.

“The low-elevation lands affected by this resource management plan are particularly important as wildlife habitat since they form crucial links in the mountains-to-plains ecology of our region, through which many of our species migrate annually. Protecting this network of wild areas therefore must be given the highest planning priority,” stated Jim Lockhart, the president of Wild Connections.

The BLM’s preferred alternative (Alternative D), fails to conserve the area’s wildest lands and natural resources. For example, BLM has identified 190,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands in the planning area, yet BLM only includes 1,300 acres of lands with wilderness character, and does not include appropriate management to protect  their wild values, making them vulnerable to fragmentation and development.

Additionally, BLM reduces other conservation management across the planning area, such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. The preferred alternative would reduce existing ACEC designations by more than 20,000 acres, even while BLM found that more than 100,000 acres of public land meet the agency’s criteria for designation, meaning they have significant natural resource values that are at risk without protective management.

These lands are important for outdoor recreation such as hiking, mountain biking, camping and fishing, provide wildlife habitat for big game and other species, and support healthy ecosystems that can help species persist in a changing climate.

Aaron and Brenda Cromer, owners of Bighorn Sheep RV Park, added, “Located in the Bighorn Sheep Canyon along the Arkansas River, our customers come for the wild and scenic river and BLM public land opportunities, as do we for our personal and professional livelihoods.

“These public lands provide crucial watersheds and backcountry, which cannot also support oil and gas wells, roads, and other forms of development. If we leave these BLM public lands unprotected, we risk losing critical fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and local wild and scenic areas, along with the sustainable tourism dollars and economic benefits that accompany these values.”

In fact, an economic study conducted by ECONorthwest found that in 2015, there were more than 1,230,000 visits to areas within the planning area for non-motorized recreation which resulted in $54.3 million in spending to the local economy. This ultimately supported 693 jobs, and generated $40.1 million in personal income.

“Colorado’s public lands define our way of life, and how they are managed, for conservation, energy development, or motorized recreation,will impact the local businesses who depend on protected lands and waters,” said Nate Porter, owner of Salida Mountain Sports.

“People come from across the world to experience our great outdoors; our bottom lines depend on those visitors.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first Resource Management Plan under this administration to strip conservation protections from our country’s wildest lands. In Southeastern Oregon, Montana, and Alaska, for example, it has been made clear that the Bureau of Land Management is seeking to remove as many protections as possible from public lands.

The systematic approach of ignoring local input, zeroing-out conservation, and prioritizing development makes it clear that it is open season on public lands.

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