The deadline for public comment on the Bureau of Land Management’s and U.S. Forest Service’s Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Browns Canyon is fast approaching. The comment period on the bureau’s plan for future management of the area ends this week, Thursday, January 2, 2020.

Multiple public information sessions were held locally for the plan. The agencies hold that a preferred plan (option C) “focuses on a wider variety of river and upland recreation opportunities in a range of settings, enhancing the local economy and quality of life for residents and visitors.”

A local coalition, including the group Friends of Browns Canyon, is encouraging the agencies to consider a more restrictive recreational plan, protecting resources and limiting recreation infrastructure development, which it calls the “Sustainable Alternative.”

Browns Canyon National Monument (BCNM) protects 9,792 acres of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and 11,811 acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in Central Colorado. The agencies are currently undergoing formal planning for the monument to determine the future management of the area.

The federal agencies list the three planning alternatives as Alternative A, B and C.  The link for public comment is https://go.usa.gov/xn2eC.

Those adding their comments in the public comment area should be aware that the agency plan and coalition alternatives are lengthy, complex and have many acronyms and technical aspects. (A  useful list of the acronyms can be found on pages 7-8 of the U.S. Forest Service’s Draft Resource Management Plan)

“In general, current management reflects decisions in the ‘Royal Gorge Resource Area Record of Decision and Approved Resource Management Plan’ (BLM 1996) and ‘Pike and San Isabel National Forests; Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands Land and Resource Management Plan’ (USFS 1984), as amended,” says the introduction to the planning alternatives.

Alternative A reflects management direction in Presidential Proclamation 9232, which imposes restrictions on resource uses and protections for ROVs (which stands for resources, objectives and values). Although this alternative would not meet the purpose and need for the BCNM RMP, it is included to allow for a comparison of existing management with the action alternatives.

Alternative B focuses on protecting monument ROVs (e.g., cultural resources, wildlife, vegetation, soil/water, river adventure, wilderness hiking, Tribal use, livestock grazing use, quiet-solitude-naturalness use) while providing for primarily non-motorized recreation activities, such as hiking and boating, in a predominantly primitive and backcountry setting. Alternative B limits future recreational infrastructure development while still allowing varied river-based and upland outdoor recreation experiences and outcomes.

Alternative C (called the preferred alternative) focuses on a wider variety of rivers and upland recreation opportunities in a range of settings to enhance the local economy and quality of life for residents and visitors. Similar to Alternative B, Alternative C includes protections for monument ROVs. However, Alternative C emphasizes more proactive management of natural resources to address stressors and drivers and a wider range of recreation opportunities and access as compared with management under Alternative B.

The sustainable alternative developed locally was publicized on June 20 of this year by the Friends of Browns Canyon and supported by a long list of local stakeholders, including numerous businesses. The group support of the Alternative B sustainable management plan is listed below:

The Sustainable Alternative was developed by a group of over 20 local Chaffee County-based citizens representing numerous organizations along with decades of land use and close observation of the area now designated as BCNM.

Organizers of this locally-supported alternative sought and received technical advice from local, regional and national organizations interested in the area and specializing in public land management. The Sustainable Alternative has broad community support from more than 80 local businesses, residents, landowners, and various regional and national organizations.

Supporters of the Sustainable Alternative say the overall objective of the Sustainable Alternative is to prioritize the intent and stipulations of Proclamation 9232 (Proclamation), which established BCNM.

The Sustainable Alternative draws on existing legislation and agency directives and its implementation proposes realistic and sustainable management prescriptions for the BLM and USFS. The Sustainable Alternative affirms the Proclamation’s guarantee of continuation of existing uses and rights, including grazing permits and water rights. It generally avoids recommendations concerning the Arkansas River corridor, whose management is acknowledged to remain the responsibility of the State of Colorado and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA).

The Sustainable Alternative seeks to address a vast variety of management issues pertaining to BCNM. Some of the recommendations within are in direct response to the draft alternatives in the agencies’ Planning Criteria Report, published in April 2019. Other suggestions are outside of the scope of the Planning Criteria Report. A few suggestions pertain to lands just outside BCNM boundaries. Local stakeholders acknowledge that these suggestions are outside of the current planning effort, but believe it is vital for the agencies to consider them throughout planning within the monument as they both, directly and indirectly, affect monument access and visitation as well as the resources, objects and values the monument was established to protect.

“Our approach in developing the Sustainable Alternative was to review existing land-use designations and recommend how these existing designations could form the basis of a zoning approach for land use within BCNM,” says their endorsement comments. “This was necessary to ensure the monument is managed appropriately to protect the resources, objects and values that it was designated to protect. We considered known locations of monument objects as well as known areas of recreation and interest.”

Through this approach, the Sustainable Alternative delineates the following:

  • Areas more appropriate for high visitor use (Front Country Zone)
  • Areas for reaching areas of high visitor use (Passage Zone)
  • Areas more targeted to back county use (Backcountry Zone)
  • Areas managed for primitive, wilderness characteristics (Primitive Zone)

General recommendations within the Sustainable Alternative include:

  • Emphasis on an adequate and timely inventory of monument resources
  • Assurance that the agencies will provide the necessary financial and staffing resources to maintain and enforce proposed actions and infrastructure, along with a caution not to propose more than can be addressed with anticipated resources
  • Support of the agencies’ intent to work closely with American Indian tribes to identify areas of tribal cultural significance and to develop strategies to avoid impacts to these resources from recreational use or vandalism
  • The potential closure of some existing non-system spurs off Aspen Ridge Road and potential establishment of designated dispersed camping at others, with parking outside of the monument boundary
  • Potential location for an interpretive/overlook trail off Aspen Ridge
  • Road with accessibility for visitors with limited mobility
  • Resolution of conflict in the Turret area due to private road and property owner issues
  • Providing visitor access from Turret to the Railroad Gulch/Stafford Gulch area
  • Informational kiosks near BCNM entry points along designated routes

The document is intended to serve as a blueprint for management recommendations and strategies. The goal in submitting this BCNM Sustainable Alternative, say its supporters, is to ensure the monument planning process protects the area’s resources, objects and values for future generations and to give voice to local constituencies and cities.

The group goes on to add a formal request that the BLM and USFS analyze the impacts of the Sustainable Alternative during the National Environmental Policy Act process in developing a monument resource management plan and adopt this Sustainable Alternative as the core of any future management plan for BCNM.”