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End sought to 35-year wilderness status

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The Board of County Commissioners has issued position statements recently on various local issues. They include ending the long-running wilderness study area (WSA) status for local public lands, and ideas for inclusion in Colorado's Water Plan.

In a recent letter, the BoCC asked Rep. Scott Tipton's office to consider beginning work to remove WSA status from the Adobe Badlands area north of Delta, and also from the Camel Back area in Montrose County.

Adobe Badlands was designated a WSA in 1980 -- 35 years ago. The area comprises 10,337 acres, according to the BLM's Uncompahgre Field Office website.

County commissioners explained at a recent meeting that the WSA designation was never intended to be permanent. If the area is not suitable as wilderness, then it should revert back to public lands management, the commissioners believe.

The UFO has studied Adobe Badlands and recommended it for non-wilderness.

In their letter to Tipton's office, the commissioners ask "that the Adobe Badlands WSA north of the Blake Field outside of Delta also be released. This area is already being used extensively by recreation and it should be managed as such.

"The Adobe Badlands WSA should be put back into the BLM system as an SRMA (special recreation management area) to specifically allow for the motorized and non-motorized uses in that area. This would help Delta County attain its goal of increasing the area where mountain bikers and ATV users can utilize public lands."

The issue of Adobe Badlands' WSA status became an important matter in 2011. That is when new power lines erected by Tri-State Generation and Transmission near Blake Field drew strong objections from the commissioners and Blake Field's general aviation community.

The problem of the power lines towering in the airspace over Blake Field could have been solved easily by moving them off a ridge and to a lower position to the west. But that solution was not available because the land west was a federally protected area -- the Adobe Badlands WSA.

In addition, the BoCC would like to see other WSAs in the area revert back to multiple-use management. Their letter to Tipton continues, "The Delta BoCC encourages Congressman Tipton to continue to push for all of the existing WSAs to be finalized and designated as either wilderness or revert to the BLM management as a multiple-use area." That includes some WSA areas that were "left over" from the Dominguez-Escalante NCA/Wilderness decision, said commissioner Doug Atchley. And it also includes the Camel Back area located south of Delta.

"Additionally," the commissioners state, "we ask that you consider initiating congressional action to remove WSA status" from the Camel Back WSA. "This area has remained in regulatory limbo since being identified as a WSA in 1980."

According to the BLM, the Camel Back area is 10,735 acres and is located nine miles south of Delta. "The Camel Back WSA is located in Montrose county; however, it is accessed through Delta County," states the commissioners' letter.

Local public lands wilderness advocates pushed hard to have the Camel Back area included in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. But the BLM had already done an extensive study of the area's wilderness characteristics and also recommended it for non-wilderness.

On another issue of local interest, the BoCC has issued its positions for inclusion in the final draft of Colorado's Water Plan.

In an eight-point document also finalized in September, the commissioners noted the following points:

• Any new transmountain diversions "must fully protect the priority of existing water rights decrees."

• Water use plans for the Front Range should not override plans for that water use on the West Slope.

• The state water plan should provide for population growth "based upon the unused native flows in each river basin."

• The plan "should include local solutions and compact curtailment to meet Colorado's future water needs without a major state water project or related "placeholder" water right.

• Basin Roundtable input must be part of any proposal for new state mandates, legislation, fees, and/or taxes.

• And the final three points in the county commissioners' comments involve the importance of consumptive rights, return flow activities and irrigation; the principal of each river basin developing its own natural supplies first; and continuation of the basin roundtable process at all levels.

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