Land meeting draws 30

Oak Creek Town Board hears discussion on Emerald land swap

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The Emerald Mountain land exchange would make it easier for the Bureau of Land Management to manage its land but could present difficult decisions for ranchers and farmers in outlying areas, as the Oak Creek Town Board heard at Thursday night's discussion.

More than 30 people came for a discussion of the proposed land exchange, including representatives of the Emerald Mountain Partnership and Citizens to Save Our Public Lands. Even after the Town Board cut the discussion off at the two-hour mark, people mingled in Oak Creek for an hour or so more to talk about the issue.

The discussion came a day after the State Land Board announced it had removed 4,190 acres of the 4,300 acres it had planned to trade with the Bureau of Land Management.

"People say it's a good deal," Routt County Farm Bureau President Dan Craig said, referring to the concept of the swap. "The good deal would be to leave us alone."

Craig said that at least seven ranches would be splintered apart because of the deal and that some of the ranchers who would like to buy BLM land they use for grazing would have a tough time paying for it.

"When you have a household income of $20,000 or less," it's difficult for ranchers to participate in the swap, Craig said. "I don't know if you guys from the Emerald Mountain Partnership can write me a check, but I'd appreciate it."

Representatives from the Emerald Mountain Partnership said that because the land in question is owned by the BLM, it could be sold or traded at any time.

"If anybody else wants to drop out, they really should, but they need to realize (these lands could be sold)," said Tim Wohlgenant, a principal for Western Land Group, which is organizing the proposed three-way trade between the BLM, State Land Board and private buyers.

Fred Conrath, representing the BLM, said that of the 481 acres within a 10-mile radius of Oak Creek involved in the swap, 77 percent did not have public access, 19 percent had public access and 4 percent had access by foot or horseback.

The land without public access is not serving the public, so it is not fulfilling the BLM's mission, he said.

"We feel that public lands that are surrounded by private lands that cannot be accessed by the public are not for the public's benefit," he said.

He also said that landowners adjacent to BLM land consistently complain about trespassing. During hunting season, trespassing can create safety issues -- such as stray bullets -- on small parcels. Another issue is one of management: It's difficult for the BLM to keep legions of small, scattered parcels free from weeds, prevent erosion and take other management steps.

Under the proposed land swap, the State Land Board would hand over the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain to the BLM in exchange for money generated from the sale of 14,800 acres of scattered BLM parcels. As part of the original proposal, the State Land Board also requested 4,300 specific acres of BLM land be transferred to its control. That number has been reduced to 110 acres.

Rebecca Rolando, head of a grass-roots group opposed to the trade, Citizens to Save Our Public Lands, said that removing 4,190 acres is a step in the right direction, but it isn't enough. None of the BLM land should be traded, she said.

"We need to let the BLM know this is not OK now or in the future," Rolando said. "If we don't put our foot down now, this BLM land is going to be gone."

In other business:

n The Oak Creek Town Board approved an application by Rocco Lombardi to build an auto service business on a lot at Kodiak Lane and Arthur Avenue and approved a loan and authorized a bond for water system improvements.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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