As Colorado's hunters and anglers know from boots-on-the-ground experience, population growth, energy development and ATVs have steadily eroded quality wildlife habitat and backcountry hunting opportunities in our state. The Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado is one of many places where wildlife habitat is increasingly threatened.
The Uncompahgre Plateau is a vast chunk of geography that encompasses redrock desert canyons and magnificent aspen and ponderosa forests. It features tiny perennial trout streams that originate in the snowy high reaches and descend 4,000 feet unchecked, carving 20-mile canyons before plunging into the Gunnison and Dolores Rivers in the hot deserts below.
This diverse landscape abounds with herds of elk including the famous trophy bulls found in game management unit 61. It's also home to impressive mule deer that get big in the steep canyons, as well as rare desert bighorn sheep. Hunters covet the opportunity to pursue these animals in a stunning setting, and spend many years patiently acquiring the points needed to finally be awarded a tag. And once you get out there you'll probably hear a lion scream on the rimrock and see bear tracks down along the streams.
The BLM is in the process of writing several resource management plans (RMPs) in the Uncompahgre Plateau region that will guide decision-making for the next 20 years. At stake are determinations for critical issues like travel management, allowed recreational and resource development, and future potential wilderness designations — the gold standard for wildlife habitat and backcountry hunting-angling opportunity.
It's critical that these RMPs maintain the wild backcountry lands that hunters and wildlife depend on. The bottom line is big wild creatures need big, wild habitat. In nature, there is no free lunch. When motorized routes degrade habitat security, hunters lose right along with their prey. Biologists demonstrated this decades ago with elk — when we punched logging roads over our national forests, hunters promptly mined out the mature bulls, then (in some cases) any bulls at all.
When drive-in hunting replaced hike-in hunting, hunters were forced to make up with shorter seasons, more restrictions, and less solitude. Either-sex hunts were replaced with bulls only seasons; mature bulls disappeared as spikes and raghorns were left to do the breeding; over-the-counter tags were replaced with special permit lotteries. As technology gains, habitat loses. When habitat loses, hunters lose.
BLM managers responsible for developing quality Resource Management Plans in the Grand Junction Field Office are trying to create plans that do the right thing, but to really make it happen they need to know that the hunters and anglers who depend on this wild country are behind them.
As the great hunter-conservationist Theodore Roosevelt said, "Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance."
David A. Lien
Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers