TELLURIDE – Based upon the recommendations forwarded to it by its local subgroup, the US Bureau of Land Management’s Southwest Resource Advisory Council recommended that 13 of 21 eligible segments in the San Miguel River and Dolores River and their tributaries be found suitable for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System at a statewide meeting held late last month.
“We affirmed suitability on segments that were mostly on federal land that had several outstandingly remarkable values and where public support was strong to have those values protected,” said Peter Mueller, a member of the larger Southwest Colorado RAC and, with Naturita’s John Reams, one of two local members of the Southwest Colorado sub-RAC composed of area residents representing diverse interests within the Uncompahgre Field Office.
“Those not included will continue to be managed as is the rest of the general landscape within the BLM lands,” he continued.
The recommendation came following an exhaustive process that included a BLM inventory of every known river with a perennial or intermittent flow within its 675,000-acre Uncompahgre Planning Area. Through that process the agency determined that more than 30 segments of 22 rivers possessed the qualities necessary for eligibility. That is, they must be free-flowing as defined by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and also contain one or more outstandingly remarkable values.
Those values must be river related and may be scenic, recreational, geologic, cultural or historic in nature, or result from large quantities or rare species of fish, wildlife or vegetation, or similar values.
After completing its inventory the BLM released its final eligibility report last June in which it tentatively classified the eligible sections of the rivers as wild, scenic or recreational based upon water quality and the level of human development along the river corridor.
Wild segments are essentially undeveloped, while recreational areas can have extensive development along their shorelines. Scenic areas fall in between the two.
Among 11 segments of the San Miguel River previously determined as eligible for inclusion in the national system, the local sub-RAC and RAC recommended five be determined as suitable for recreational designations in the national system. They include: Beaver Creek, and four segments of the San Miguel River.
No segments were found to have scenic suitability, but three segments: Saltado Creek, one in the San Miguel River, and Tabeguache Creek, Segment 1, received recommendations as wild.
Three of the 11 eligible San Miguel River segments: Dry Creek, Naturita Creek and Tabeguache Creek, Segment 2, were not recommended for inclusion in the system.
Among eight, eligible segments of the Upper Dolores River, the sub-RAC and RAC recommended that four not receive suitability designations. They include: Ice Lake Creek, Segment 2; La Sal Creek, Segment 1; Lion Creek, Segment 2, and Spring Creek.
Two of the four remaining eligible segments: Dolores River, Segment 2; and La Sal Creek, Segment 2, received suitability recommendations as recreational.
The final two eligible segments: La Sal Creek, Segment 3, and Dolores River, Segment 1, received suitability recommendations as wild.
On the Lower Dolores River the RAC recommended that one of two eligible sections, the Lower Dolores River segment, receive a scenic designation. The second eligible section, the North Fork Mesa Creek section, did not receive a suitability recommendation.
“The big story is in the process itself, and how well the different groups and individuals from the East End and West End worked together to wade through the misconceptions and truth to come up with a pretty balanced recommendation that has pretty widespread support and helped elevate the protection of the river in many areas while at same time ensuring that the agricultural and mining industries will be able to continue their use of the river as a means of economic development,” said Mueller.
“I think that whether you’re from the West End or the East End or somewhere in between it’s really clear that people care a great deal for the San Miguel River and the Dolores River and how they’re managed; this represents a significant step toward balancing environmental considerations with sustaining the agricultural and recreational aspects of our economy.”
“Sheep Mountain Alliance is very pleased with the collaborative process up and down the watershed and the amount of input that BLM officers received in order to come to this suitability finding,” said Hilary White, executive director of the local conservation group that has been working toward the inclusion of the local waterways in the national system.
“We hope that, especially for sake of watershed, that we can continue to work together and find ways to preserve the rivers while allowing for ongoing uses,” she continued.
According to Mueller the recommendations will be put forward in the larger resource management plan being undertaken by the BLM, a draft of which it hopes to put out by the summer of 2012.
“That [draft plan] will have a period of public comment and then they will ultimately release their final resource management plan revision,” he explained.
While the BLM makes recommendations on the suitability of the river segments for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, ultimately only the U.S. Congress of the Secretary of the Interior can make the final designation.