Land-swap talk draws 40

Residents concerned about BLM/Emerald plan ask questions, make requests

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Often in raised voices and piercing questions, residents had another chance Thursday to voice their resentment of the Emerald Mountain land exchange.

More than 40 people from across the county came to the third meeting held by Citizens to Save Our Public Land. The residents fear that when the Bureau of Land Management trades smaller land parcels throughout the county for the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain, public land they now access will become private.

More than 19,000 acres have been put on the list for consideration in the land exchange. Eight of those parcels totaling more than 2,000 acres have formal opposition from bordering landowners.

At Thursday's meeting in Hayden, the group presented five points as it worked on a formal proposal to the BLM.

The group would like the BLM to require all adjacent landowners to be in unanimous agreement for any parcel that will be exchanged. It is also asking that all parcels with public access, regardless of size, be removed from the proposed sale list.

The group said it has no problems with the BLM trading any parcel that is completely surrounded by one landowner and has no public access. But it said the partnership should consider disposing of profitable portions of Emerald Mountain so it can generate more revenue toward the land swap.

And finally, they wanted surrounding neighbors to be part of the land management process on BLM parcels.

"We are trying to work out a solution that is going to work and work with us, not just the Emerald Mountain Partnership," said Rebecca Rolando, who heads the opposition group.

Although the group proposed five points for the BLM to consider, the majority of the two-and-half hour meeting was spent peppering BLM officials and an Emerald Mountain Partnership member with questions.

At the heart of the issue, county residents wanted to know why BLM land next to their property or land they use for grazing or recreation could be traded in an effort to preserve Emerald Mountain.

Yampa Rancher Carl Herold said he supported open space all his life but does not see the benefits of trading 19,000 acres of BLM land for the 6,345 acres of Emerald Mountain. He also said the price he is expected to pay for a piece of BLM land that splits his land in half is too high.

"Most of us that ranch can't afford to buy 200 acres," he said. "I will be 90 years old before I can pay for it."

With more than 50 percent of the proposed parcels being smaller than 40 acres, BLM Field Supervisor David Blackstun said the federal agency would like to exchange the smaller parcels for the more manageable Emerald Mountain. Much of the land proposed for trade is not easily accessible to the general public, and Emerald Mountain would be, he said.

"I am not going to deceive you, we have a strong interest in consolidating. We do not have a strong interest in maintaining open space for neighbors on land where the public doesn't have access to it," he said.

Ben Beall, who is chairman of the Emerald Mountain Partnership, said that the 6,345-acre parcel is the core of the more than 10,000 acres of publicly accessible or conserved land in the large Emerald Mountain land block.

"You have to look at the bigger picture of what we are trying to do here," Beall said.

Landowners complained they bought land because it was adjacent to BLM property and had believed it would stay that way.

Michael Sisk, who has land bordering a 970-acre parcel proposed in the swap, asked who was going to compensate the people who bought land at higher values because it was adjacent to BLM land.

"Who would have ever thought in their wildest imagination that it would sell. Nobody would imagine that," Sisk said.

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