by Christine Canaly

Director, 

SLV Ecosystem Council

Federal public land managers throughout the country, encouraged by the Obama administration, continue to move policy efforts forward, despite the gridlock in Congress. This means that you the public have an opportunity to participate in planning efforts that will impact our surrounding landscape for the next twenty years. Thanks to those of you who have enthusiastically participated in recent public meetings. Remember, written comments are welcome too, so please don’t be stressed about the deadlines, just get comments (your perspective) in as soon as you are able.

Public lands are a public asset that belong to you as an American. It is a legacy we all share. Our stewardship will determine the heritage we provide for future generations. There are efforts through groups like the American Lands Council (ALC) and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which receive financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers to endorse campaigns to sell federal lands to the states. Make no mistake, this is a land seizure campaign in an effort to privatize our public assets.

Groups like ALC argue that individual states are better equipped to manage the west’s natural wonders than the United States Forest Service and other national land management agencies, like the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service or Bureau of Land Management.

The only way states could afford to administer America’s public lands would be to raise taxes or sell or lease large expanses to developers and other private interests, including oil, gas, timber and mining companies. Recently, the United States House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, endorsed the outright sale of our public lands.  The Democratic Senate let it die. It is unclear whether such legislation would even be enforceable.

That’s why it’s so important for the public to stay involved and participate in land management decisions. This is your backyard and there are 3.1 million acres of public lands surrounding us. We’ve had four public input processes occurring simultaneously over the last month. Here is a brief summary:

1. San Luis Valley Solar Energy Zones (SEZs)/Mitigation Plans

Even though these public comments are currently pertaining to our local SEZs, it’s also important to apply the mitigation concept more broadly because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is also beginning to draft 2.0 mitigation strategies which will be relevant to all their federal lands throughout the country. One of the major ideas proposed in Planning 2.0 is the shift of management to a “landscape scale”, defined by specific “ecoregions.” You can learn more about this at http://on.doi.gov/1zBmVGh.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had a deadline for comments of October 15 regarding the SEZs, soliciting landscape assessment and regional mitigation strategies input from the public. The reason the BLM  is developing these solar regional mitigation strategies is to identify the potential impacts of solar development in SEZs and find appropriate mitigation measures to address these impacts.

For more information: http://blmsolar.anl.gov/sez/co/news; e-mail: SolarMitigation@blm.gov.

BLM will be accepting comments throughout the mitigation process.

2. The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) 20-year Management Plan revision

They are currently in the pre-scoping process and public meetings have just begun. The RGNF will be hosting 35 public meetings throughout this two-year process. It’s important to let the Forest Service know your priorities early in the process. What’s at stake are roadless area boundaries, protection of watersheds, wildlife corridors, forest health, potential for more wilderness designation and how the back country will be managed.  For more information, go to http://1.usa.gov/1swamlL.

To participate in the Forest Service questionnaire, go to: http://riograndeplanning.mindmixer.com.

3. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) San Luis Valley Wildlife Refuge Complex 20-year Management Plan

This includes management decisions for the Alamosa, Monte Vista and Baca National Wildlife Refuges. For more information please go to http://1.usa.gov/1pRQdqk. Comments are due November 3, but they will accept comments throughout the year.

The reintroduction of Bison Study (Alternative 2) got a lot of attention at the local public meeting held recently in Moffat by USFWS. The management and viability of bird populations continues to be a major priority for all the SLV Wildlife Refuges so there is concern regarding reintroduction of bison and its impacts.

Coincidentally, The Great Sand Dunes National Park (NPS) is beginning their own ungulate study. Comments are due Sunday November 2.  This study includes a reexamination of the potential for bison conservation within the park.  The Defenders of Wildlife are recommending cooperation between the two agencies and establishing a publicly-owned herd of wild, wide-ranging bison on the (southern portion of) Baca National Wildlife Refuge and in the Great Sands Dunes National Park. Defenders see these management processes as a great opportunity to bring two US Department of Interior agencies together to help restore a portion of the bison wildlife legacy.

For a summary of the study: http://bit.ly/1FQTDEf.

For a review of the alternatives through the NPS newsletter, go to: http://bit.ly/1v6xE3r.

To provide comments, go to: http://bit.ly/1FQTDEf.

SLV Ecosystem Council is also sponsoring a day hike to a BLM Wilderness Study Area in Conejos County, near Antonito (San Luis Hills) on Saturday, November 15. Please join us and go to our website for more information, www.slvec.org.