MONTROSE – At its quarterly meeting last week at the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, the Public Lands Partnership heard about a Division of Wildlife research project that will involve bullets (and dead coyotes), and heard from the GMUG National Forests about how the Telluride Ski Area is tangled up with private-land-rights advocate (not to say extortionist) Thomas Chapman.
The PLP is a public forum, created in 1992, open to anyone, and designed to “create civic discussion” on issues surrounding public lands. Partners include city and county governments, local environmental and business groups, and land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado DOW. Commissioner Joan May of San Miguel County chaired the meeting. County commissioners Keith Meinert and Lynn Padgett were present for Ouray, along with Olen Lund for Delta County.
The PLP’s brand of “collaborative management” was cited as a key reason this summer for western Colorado being awarded $9.6 million by the Department of Agriculture for a 10-year project to restore forest landscapes on the Uncompahgre Plateau. (See Watch story from 8/23/10 http://watchnewspapers.com/view/full_story/9247828/article-Uncompahgre-Plateau-Project-Wins-Funding-for-10-Year-Restoration?)
Jim Garner of CDOW began the reports from the agencies. “We feel pretty good about the lynx reintroduction project,” he said. After a dozen years, “we think we have a sustaining population.”
Another bit of good news: DOW will start work in May on a climate-controlled seed storage warehouse in Delta. Sagebrush and other difficult-to-store seeds will be warehoused there for use in sage grouse habitat restoration following wildfire, along with other reseeding efforts around the West.
Then came the not-so-good news: the Gunnison sage grouse population in the San Miguel Basin has dropped precipitously in the last couple of years to potentially unsustainable levels. (The grouse are a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act.) “We’re not positive about the reasons; it could be weather. But we tend to believe the locals who are telling us – predators.”
To find out for sure, Garner said, DOW is undertaking a two-year research project in predator control near Miramonte Lake. “This won’t be just goin’ out and shootin’ coyotes,” Garner said, expecting and getting a smattering of laughter. “Bullets will be involved . . .” But there are baseline numbers in place, and after two years, if the grouse population rebounds, then they’ll have their answer.
What about other predators, like raptors? asked Stu Krebs, of the Uncompahgre Valley Association.
“You can’t shoot them,” Garner replied. “Legally, we can relocate them to another area. But they’re likely to beat you back to your starting place.” Besides, he speculated, the raptors might be helpful in keeping down a possible explosion in small rodent populations – mice, squirrels, prairie dogs – once the coyote numbers have been reduced.
The next report came from Lee Ann Loupe, representing the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison National Forest. Loupe talked about the complexities involved in keeping the Intermountain Resources sawmill alive. The mill, the largest lumber mill in Colorado, is in receivership and unable to pay the USFS for timber contracts it has already purchased. There is only so much the agency can do to help the business stay afloat.
Loupe also talked about the just-completed national elections and unknowns involving changes at the agency, including rumors of furloughs, hiring freezes, possible further budget cuts. “We’ll see how it shakes out,” she said.
There was good news on the wildfire front, Loupe’s compatriot Carmine Lockwood, GMUG’s Strategic Planning Officer, said. Thanks to the Uncompahgre Forest Restoration grant, they are able to add a full-time fuels treatment manager to the Montrose office who will work on prescribed-fire and mechanical treatments in the region. “We’re also going to be able to move an engine permanently over to Norwood,” Lockwood said. He didn’t need to mention the several big wildfires near Norwood in the last couple of years.
Loupe then moved on to Telluride news. The ski area is working on its new master plan, she said. And though it is probably not news to skiers, Loupe briefly touched on the possibility that Telski will include a request to expand its permit boundary into Upper Bear Creek. At this point, of course, the USFS is neutral on the subject. Though she did mention the emotional controversies generated by the idea, particularly the complications presented by developer Tom Chapman, who has recently purchased mining claims in the expansion zone. (A member of the public spoke up about a recent Wall Street Journal profile of Chapman, which referred to him as the “Buzzard of the Backcountry.”)
Loupe mentioned but did not comment on Chapman’s claims to access to his property through the ski area. But she did acknowledge that in a master plan revision “all kinds of things rear their ugly heads. And I’m not talking about Tom Chapman’s head.”
The PLP meets monthly, except December, on the first Thursday afternoon of the month. For schedule and agendas check the website: publiclandspartnership.org.