Monday, February 18, 2002
Steamboat Springs A city position supporting a statewide wilderness designation proposal that pleased local environmentalists, angered the Moffat County commissioners and sparked debate for months, could be altered tonight.
Steamboat Springs City Council members do not think the new resolution, which "urges the Congress of the United States of America to give respectful consideration to all of the plans proposed for the permanent protection of public lands," constitutes a retraction of their previous position, but rather a refining of the language they want to recommend opening the dialogue to allow consideration of a number of options for land management.
"I don't think it changes the position basically," Councilman Bud Romberg said. "It's a modification on verbage.
"Basically what this resolution says is we're still in favor of protecting the environment."
In September, the council passed a seemingly innocuous resolution after just a few minutes of review supporting the designation of more than 1.6 million acres of federal land in Colorado as wilderness.
The city joined a group of local businesses, community groups and residents who have gotten behind the 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 and grazing leases. It would also limit the use of 300,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.
The federal legislation to ratify the plan was proposed by Sen. Diane DeGette, D-Colo., last July, but the environmentalist groups involved are working with DeGette to try to get her to expand her proposal.
Because local support is an important factor in getting legislation through Congress, environmentalists have stepped up efforts to gauge local opinion and help galvanize support before trying to change how the federal land is managed. That's why the Colorado Wilderness Network asked the city to support the proposal even though it asks for no new wilderness in Routt County but more than 300,000 acres of wilderness in Moffat County.
The City Council has taken stands on statewide issues in the past without incident. This time was different.
Little did the council know the resolution would end up consuming tens of hours of the city's time and would threaten to wreck the city's partnership with Moffat County.
Moffat County Commissioners were outraged the council had passed the resolution without considering the implications it had on other areas more directly affected. Moffat County is currently seeking a major overhaul of the way federal land is managed in the county. The commissioners have drafted a proposal called the Northwest Colorado Working Landscape Trust that would establish a board of seven trustees 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 so as not to "elbow anyone off the table," Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said.
The new city resolution does not satisfy the Moffat County Commissioners, who had asked the council to fully retract its initial resolution.
"We're taking pains in our processes and plan to take into account any interested opinions," Dickinson said. "I'm disappointed the Steamboat Springs City Council decided not to recognize that."
They do not feel the issue can be resolved with this new resolution.
"This doesn't change anything," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said. "I still don't see how this benefits the residents of Moffat County."
Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said the new council cannot simply dismantle the work of its predecessors.
"We can't go adding to or changing that resolution because it was a different council, it was a different group of people," she said.
And though the city invited the commissioners to the meeting, they claim to have never received the invitation and will not likely attend.
The resolution, however, is acceptable to the environmentalists pushing the Citizen's Wilderness Proposal, said some of the proposal's most ardent supporters.
"As kind of an olive branch, a show of fairness, they added to their position that Moffat County's views ought to be considered as well," said Jeff Widen, the associate director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition based in Durango.
"One of the things we have always said is that the points of view of all interested parties local and not local ought to be heard."