Moffat pressures city council

County wants city to recant support of wilderness proposal

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— With future funding for regional transportation potentially at stake, the Steamboat Springs City Council will decide tonight whether to stick by an earlier vote to support new wilderness or give in to Moffat County's demands for a reversal.

In a decision that took just a few minutes on Sept. 18, the City Council threw its support behind a statewide wilderness designation proposal supported by environmentalist groups.

None of the new acreage proposed is in Routt County, but more than 300,000 acres is being proposed for Moffat County, which opposes the designation.

The Moffat County Commissioners said the Steamboat council's decision was hasty and unfair, because the council did not consult the commissioners.

And now the commissioners have threatened to pull $12,000 in funding for regional transportation from Craig to Steamboat.

They also threatened to drop joint funding operations in telecommunications and other community development projects, which they said could be put in jeopardy by Steamboat's stand on wilderness.

The commissioners plan to be present at tonight's meeting.

The city joined a growing group of local businesses, community groups and residents who have gotten behind the wilderness proposal, which would cut off about 16 percent of Colorado's 8.4 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management to motorized and mechanical uses as well as new drilling leases. It would also limit the use of 300,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.

Wilderness areas are restricted to motorized and mechanical uses and to new drilling, but the areas can be used for practices like cattle grazing if they have been used for those things in the past. They can also be drilled on if the leases are already in place.

Some Routt County residents have sided with Moffat County in letters, opposing the city's resolution to support the wilderness designation.

Others have implored the city to stand strong tonight as the commissioners attempt to convince the council to change the decision.

Moffat County has been reticent to accept the proposal in part because the county is now asking the federal government to pass a plan that would give local citizens more input in how federal land in the county is used.

Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said that too many federal decisions about land in Moffat County have been made without the consent or even the input of local residents.

The county's proposed land use plan is called the Northwest Colorado Working Landscape Trust and would have to be passed by the federal government. The proposal would establish a board of trustees, presumably appointed by the commissioners and the governor, to oversee all federal land in the county.

The trust would have regulatory powers but would permit all uses on the land, said Jeff Comstock, the natural resources policy analyst for Moffat County.

The trustees would work with other federal agencies, such as the Forest Service and BLM, to determine how that land would be managed, Comstock said.

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