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One way to cope with the multitude

Article by Jeffrey Keidel

Federal agencies – April 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

“Who are those guys?” asks a rider peering through the dust of the valley floor. Behind him lay the rugged terrain of desert and river, mountain and plain. Squinting into the distance for a uniform, a hat, or anything to identify the authorities below, his partner replies, “I dunno… I just don’t know.” They mount their horses and head for the hills.

Like the ’60s film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, contemporary riders of Broncos, Mustangs, Winnebagos, and Cherokees still wonder, as they head into the western lands, “Who are those guys?”

You’ve seen those guys. They ramble along the asphalt trails of Highways 285, 24, or 50, saddled up in their green or rawhide-tan pickups with those vaguely familiar logos emblazoned on the doors.

They are the men and women of truth, justice, and American multiple-use management! You know, those forester-wildlife-ranger guys — collectively called natural resource managers.

But really, who are they?

Let’s see: There’s the U.S. Division of Forestland Reclamation, or… no, that’s the Bureau of Land Mines and Water. They’re the guys with green pickups … no, that’s white trucks, with the logo of the bighorn pine tree. Then there’s the Colorado Department of Fish Parks and Wildlife Games. Their officers wear cool hats with the emblem of the aspen leaf… or, is it the mining pick?

When there really is a natural resources emergency which requires a fix with a superfunded water diversion device, you can spot the Bureau of Reclaiming the EPA. Their logo features a dam flower.

Then there’s the SCS (Soil Conversation Service) and the ASCS (Another Soil Conversation Service), which tag team to help private land owners talk dirt. Their logo displays soil and water. Interpreting liberally, does that mean their name is mud? (Actually their name is now the Natural Resources Conservation Service.)

Then there’s the granddaddy of them all: the Division of Land Manglement within the USDA Department of Interior Decorating. I forgot what their logo looks like, but, I’m sure its quite stylish.

If the pickups go by too fast and you can’t quite make out the logo or the truck color, no problem: just look for the road signs that identify your public land agencies. For example, as you drive into the Upper Arkansas Valley look for the “Welcome to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area” signs. They’re right next to the sign that says “Welcome to the San Isabel National Forests” which is across the road from the “Welcome to the Royal Gorge Resource Area,” which is just downhill from the “Welcome to the Goldbelt Scenic Byway” sign. All of them are right next to the sign that says, “Private land. No damn trespassing.”

Anybody who knows anything about public land management knows that “This is Colorado!”

Now, if you still can’t figure out who those guys are, try a map. The green shading marks the National Forest Service lands. Smoked Bear is the boss on those acres. You can’t miss his road sign: It’s the one with all the bullet holes.

The yellow patches that are intermingled with the green ones on your map… yes, the ones that are helter-skelter all over the place… that’s the Bureau of Land Management terrain.

OF COURSE, if you drive out some back road to check out the actual terra firma identified on the map, there are no green and yellow color codes on the landscape. Though the wild animals do leave sign, they don’t have agency logos either. In fact, when you get out there among the trees and rocks, you won’t be able to distinguish between the National Forest and the BLM lands. It all looks the same. You might even notice that the critters and plants all operate as if they are part of the same ecosystem. Pretty arrogant, don’t you think? I mean, those plants and critters thinking that they can manage like that.

Well, the resource agencies know better. The National Forest lands are managed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There’s a secretary of agriculture in the president’s cabinet, a main Washington office, a regional office, a district office, a forest plan, separate forest researchers, anthropological experts, office secretaries, copy machines, phones, and faxes.

The land that is directly adjacent is managed by the BLM. That’s in the U.S. Department of the Interior. There’s a separate secretary of the interior, a separate Washington office, regional and district office, a separate land plan, separate forest researchers, anthropological experts, office secretaries, copy machines, phones, and faxes.

On the ground, these lands are contiguous and operate ecologically as one, but bureaucratically, they are miles apart.

Now to balance out the colors on your map, there are blue squares every once in a while: that’s land owned by the Colorado State Land Board. They grow cows and develop resources to fund schools.

Occasionally there are other colors added to the quilt: Colorado State Parks, Colorado Division of Wildlife Areas, and wilderness areas.

WHAT a grand tapestry we have made of the western landscape! A typical map not only serves to determine agency ownership but it also doubles nicely as a checkerboard. To think that once upon a time, Frémont and Pike and other early explorers (who didn’t use different colored ink), just mapped the landscape as if it were all connected. How primitive.

If resource agencies were on a regulated plan, like a certain recreational industry in the Arkansas Basin, we would have gone into rationing long ago. Perhaps what we need to do in addition to hiring kids to count boats-per-day on the river, is to have them count agency pickups-per-day on the roads.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the Upper Arkansas Valley (Cañon City to Climax) has more water and natural resource government agencies, divisions, sections, bureaus, departments, and acronyms operating in it than any other watershed of comparable size. The only card we don’t carry is the National Park Service (By the way, they’re the guys that actually wear the Smokey Bear hats, but don’t use him on any of their logos, signs, or print material. Go figure.), and they’re as close as the sand dunes.

Our ace card, however, is the multitude of agencies collecting water samples, shocking fish, and generally analyzing the bejeezus out of the river.

Now that you can answer “Who are those guys?”, let’s figure out “Where are those guys and what do they do?”

Let’s say you’d like to use some natural resources in the Upper Arkansas Valley. Most agency offices are scattered around Salida, (though Cañon City has a whole bunch too).

For fishing, hunting, wildlife watching or game damage information, stop by the Colorado Division of Wildlife office on Highway 50. However, if you want to fish, hunt, or watch along some sections of the river, you’ll need to get additional information and a park pass at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area office. Drive downtown.

For information on camping, hiking, mountain biking, tree cutting, cattle grazing, mining, try the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service office. It’s back across town. By the way, don’t inadvertently stop by the Colorado State Forest Service office, which is just up the road — they don’t do campgrounds.

HOWEVER, FOR INFORMATION on camping, hiking, mountain biking, tree cutting, cattle grazing, and mining on BLM lands, you’ll need to stop by another office. It’s clear down in Cañon City.

Want to visit a fish hatchery? Which one? There’s the federal fish hatchery near Leadville operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and two others operated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Yes, they both raise trout, both are open for viewing, both have whirling disease concerns, both release fish into Colorado waters.

Whew! Visiting all those different agencies, in all those different offices, sure has us using natural resources all right,…mostly the non-renewable one in our gas tank.

There is even greater confusion if you have questions about using water resources. Without going into a lot of detail, your assistance may lie with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. EPA, state Division of Water Resources, or the state Department of Public Health & Environment.

Of course there is some fascinating history to the development of this bureaucratic fragmentation. Most of it evolved in a different national mind set: the West was an outpost of resources to develop for a growing country. It was a place for rugged individuals to carve out a piece of the landscape. Some agencies evolved to assist these hardy independents.

However, when greedy characters started dismembering ecosystems, other bureaucracies were created to impose the hand of regulation to protect the common good. Consequently some federal and state agencies have almost diametrically opposite mandates.

The West is changing. And Central Colorado is changing faster than you can say “growth.” The pressures on resource managers to meet the ever-expanding demands of the public on our finite landscape is increasing. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word…” is a far cry from the public hearings convened around here.

IRONICALLY, WE MAY NEED the expertise and services of soil scientists, recreation planners, range conservationists, wildlife biologists, and water managers, now more than ever.

Yet, this November, Colorado voters resoundingly cried “Enough! Enough bureaucracy! Enough big government! Enough fragmentation and confusions More accountability! More efficient service to the public! Reduce and simplify!”

So, the question shakes out: How can these much-needed services survive the current slash-and-burn political atmosphere, while at the same time streamlining this confounding labyrinth of natural resources government in the Upper Arkansas Valley?

Here is one fun idea:

Adopt the Wal-Mart/7-11 approach to management and customer services. Consolidate all the state and federal resource agencies that operate in the valley, in a one-stop-shop. (Hey, won’t the current Salida Wal-Mart store be vacated soon?) Each agency could keep its individual identity, but would serve the customer more conveniently by being co-located. Interagency coordination would improve immensely, though I imagine there would be some minor turf battles — probably nothing worse than who gets the most desirable cubicles, however. Agencies could then plagiarize Wal-Mart’s current add campaign: “Watch for falling taxes.”

THEN SUPPLEMENT the Resource-Mart idea with the 7-11 model of convenience store outposts for natural resource agencies in each watershed town: Leadville, Buena Vista, Cañon City, etc. Each store would be able to provide the most basic supplies a resource user would want.

A color change is the next step. Rather than the present confusing attire of green for the Forest Service, brown for BLM, khaki for State Parks, and gray for the Division of Wildlife, how about some umbrella color that all the resource agencies wear to symbolize unity and consolidation. With one homogeneous color, the public would be able to identify one source for natural resources information. How about mauve?… chartreuse?… Teal? Yes, teal uniforms would be nice. L.L. Bean has a nice selection of teal-colored outdoor gear. Teal trucks, teal road signs, too.

The next obvious step is to somehow masterfully blend all the logos into one? Possibly a teal satyr? Certainly, there are enough creative artists in this valley to rise to that challenge.

These alterations, although initially only cosmetic, (and some might say naive) might provide the fertile structure to force meaningful dialogue to accomplish the will of the people: to have smaller, more efficient government.

Of course, the answer to this dilemma can always be found in a model from elsewhere… like California. It seems like everything else is moving from California to Colorado.

Or Washington? Perhaps the reinvention guru, Al Gore, is working on his plan for Central Colorado right now. Maybe Bruce Babbitt and Newt are helping!

Then again, the answer might be right here in the collective wisdom of the citizens of Central Colorado. After all, it is our communities that depend on natural resources for our survival through mining, tourism, ranching, rafting, logging, fishing, etc.

Regardless of the actual plan used, a fundamental shift must take place: the traditional boundaries that fractured the geographic and bureaucratic landscape into illogical boxes must be discarded for a new mode of operation that is grounded in the inarguable jurisdiction of natural systems — including people.

Perhaps our Hollywood outlaws said it best.

“Who are those guys?” posed Sundance. Butch’s reply: “I don’t know … but we better do something about it.”

Jeffrey Keidel of Buena Vista has been seen working inside a government office. He’s organizing the second annual Upper Arkansas River Form, April 19-20 in Cañon City.