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BLM releases a flood of data

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Photo by Hank Lohmeyer Within a matter of days, the BLM released massive amounts of local public lands studies, regulations, proposals and plans for public comment. Shown burying a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Langua

A flood of federal paperwork and data on public lands issues released recently by the BLM has left the county staff treading water trying to deal with all the material in order to offer meaningful comment.

The BLM's paper tide of proposed regulations, management plans and environmental impact statements, coming within a few days of each other this summer, has led the county government to seek an extension of time to review it all -- especially the all-important BLM Uncompahgre Field Office Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) released in May.

The county commissioners on Monday approved an official request to BLM state director Ruth Welch to extend by 90 days the deadline for comments on the Uncompahgre Draft RMP. The deadline for comments is currently Sept. 1.

In addition to the Draft RMP, the BLM recently released three other planning documents for public comment: the Bull Mountain Master Plan Environmental Impact Statement on minerals development in the Bull Mountain area, principally in Gunnison County; an environmental impact statement that could impact the local ag industry and grazing uses in the North Delta area; and the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Proposed Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

In their request for an extension of comment time, the commissioners state, "These four documents equate to over 5,000 pages to review, determine how they will impact the long-term economic, environmental, and social [life of] Delta County, and write the comments in the correct format." The commissioners note the county's "limited staff available to accomplish all of these tasks." All four documents taken as a whole also will have a "cumulative impact" on the county, commissioners state.

The county has cooperating agency status with BLM on its land use policies. As a cooperating agency, county staff must be able to offer "substantive comment" and guidance to the BLM on its land management policies and decisions that affect constituents and the area's economic interests.

Noting that the Uncompahgre Draft RMP is an especially important document to this area, the commissioners state, "This document is complex, comprehensive, and will guide the direction of the BLM and surrounding counties for 20 years plus."

The commissioners are reviewing the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area RMP and Environmental Impact Statement that was released with a deadline for protest due by July 31. The county has not issued an official protest, but commissioners said on Monday they are discussing some areas of concern about the document with NCA management.

All three of the county commissioner and the county administrator are planning to drive to Denver on Tuesday, July 26, for a face-to-face meeting with the BLM state director on various issues.

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