About 230 people showed up on a chilly but sunny day in Nathrop for a listening session on Browns Canyon hosted by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall on April 13.
They were there to discuss concerns, voice opposition and to show support for legislation that Udall plans to introduce that would create a national monument and wilderness area designation for the 22,000 acres that lie east of the Arkansas River, about halfway between Salida and Buena Vista.
Under Udall’s draft proposal, the Browns Canyon National Monument will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Udall’s proposal maintains existing uses, including river running, hunting and angling, grazing, and motorized access on all designated roads in the area. The proposal also requires that the agencies develop a coordinated management plan for managing visitor use and resources.
Speakers in favor of the designation, who seemed to be in the majority, represented interests as varied as sportsmen, hunters, veterans, fishermen, river outfitters, hikers and environmentalists. Opponents seemed to largely consist of long-time area ranchers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. That group generally seemed to not like the concept of wilderness as a rule and spoke of “land-grabbing” and their rights to go any damned place they chose, as long as it was aided by some sort of motorized contraption. Others voiced that the federal agencies were planning a bait and switch, as a stipulation in the bill says the management plan might be revisited in three years. Others saw it as an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers, even though the management of the area by three different public agencies would not change under the new designation.
Many proponents voiced their frustration with the fact the current proposal had already been whittled down from the 102,000 acres first identified as suitable for wilderness under the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation in the 1970s. Others cited the silence on the part of some opponents until the idea of a national monument was introduced.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, who has historically shown little interest in the wilderness designation, gave a textbook speech about how public lands should be available to “as many people as possible,” and that the process should be approached “very carefully.” Apparently a process that was begun in the 1970s and has undergone enormous amounts of research and planning since that time, is not quite careful enough for him.
Also in attendance were several area professionals who sat on panels to answer any questions that might come up. Included among these were representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau, Salida Mountain Trails and the whitewater rafting industry. State Sen. Gail Schwartz was also in attendance but did not speak.
Udall plans to host another meeting for public input sometime in May before he introduces legislation for the proposal in June. Comments may also be submitted online at: