The future of public lands is at stake in Mesa County and surrounding areas as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drafts a new management plan for the coming decades.
Outdated now is an old land management plan, drafted when land use was different in the area than it is today.
"The last plan was done in 1987," said David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the BLM. "So, the Western Slope and the Grand Junction area has changed a lot since 1987. So, it's time to revise this plan."
The BLM has worked to draft a new plan and is now in a public input phase.
This will guide the management for the next two decades," Boyd explained. "So, with the release of this draft, that's an opportunity for the public to come in, take a look at the draft and give us some specific feedback."
Mesa County has been working alongside the BLM on what future land management will look like in the area.
"We're just interested in a balanced approach," said Keith Fife, director of long range planning for the county. "Multiple use is really important to this community and the county's trying to make sure that the BLM addresses the interests of the local folks."
The new draft plan includes changes in its different alternatives which are bound to impact certain groups. One of the most contentious issues deals with travel management.
"Nationally, the BLM is moving to a designated route system, so the route has to be designated for it to be open to use," said Boyd.
"That's a big concern to a lot of folks here, which has an economic impact," Fife added. "Of course, you know a lot of the indirect impacts of any of these decisions, it's not only going to impact the land, but it's going to impact businesses that depend on folks that are using that property for whatever use."
Advocates for public access like Brandon Siegfried are not happy with proposed route closures and he says that information in the draft doesn't adequately desc
"This is huge for Mesa County," Siegfried said. "We've never had an assault on our access in our history. The 1987 RMP (Resource Management Plan) basically left things alone. So, now for the first time, we're looking at a federal government agency which is unelected coming in and closing over two thirds of the roads on our public lands right now."
But travel management is just a portion of the plan. It also addresses conservation.
"We're also looking at potentially managing some lands to protect the wilderness characteristics there. So, some people think that's a great idea, some people don't think it's a great idea," said Boyd.
Sherry Schenk is part of a group called Great Old Broads For Wilderness.
They started out evaluating thirty one areas in the field office, so kind of all the way around here. And, I was really encouraged about that because they were looking at a lot of possibilities, a lot of options," Schenk said.
She's happy to see some allotments for lands with wilderness characteristics but hopes that more are included in the BLM's preferred draft alternative.
"I think we as people need wilderness," says Schenk. "It's like one end of a continuum of land."
Keith Fife says that in his role with Mesa County, much has changed in the way the land is used in the area, so those changes will need to be addressed in the new plan.
"It was a resource extraction area for oil and gas primarily and for grazing."
Now, he says that recreation is booming and technology for energy development has changed.
Local oil & gas representatives like David Ludlam of the Western Colorado Oil & Gas Association have a lot of vested interest in the shape of land management to come.
"It's going to be important that the Grand Junction RMP account for that future drilling that we're going to be pursuing over the coming decades. As most people are aware, natural gas is an important part of our economy, so we're going through it with a fine tooth comb, page by page, paragraph by paragraph to make sure that there's nothing in that document that's going to prohibit drilling in the future or that would impact the local business community."
All of these issues, including wildfire, grazing, endangered species and more are part are part of the draft, which can be intimidating. It is over one thousand pages long and is published in three volumes. The draft is comprised of four alternatives, though the BLM says no one alternative will likely be chosen as-is. The final, preferred alternative will be comprised of the preferred parts based on public comment.
The BLM has been holding meetings around the area to provide information, address questions and allow for the public to fill out specific comment forms.