Ben Beall: Emerald significant

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The Emerald Mountain Project is a significant and long-term benefit for the residents and visitors of Routt County. The project, 10 years in the making, to limit development on the 6,300-acre State Land Board parcel and open this parcel for public use, is complicated.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership appreciates the Pilot & Today for announcing our monthly public meetings in the Get Involved column. All of the board members would like to see more public participation in the Emerald Mountain Project. At our board meetings, the main topic of discussion is the progress of the Bureau of Land Management-SLB Emerald Mountain Exchange through which Emerald Mountain would become public lands under BLM ownership. Our board meetings are on the third Monday of each month at noon in the commissioners hearing room.

The public is encouraged to participate in the Management Plan Subcommittee meetings. These meetings are held on the first Monday of each month at noon in the commissioners hearing room.

This subcommittee, made up of board members and advisory members from the community, has been working on a draft management plan. The partnership in the near future will have a "final draft" which will be presented at a community meeting for comment.

This community plan will then be presented to the BLM as an alternative in the BLM's public process. In the partnership's working draft, the uses contemplated are protection of wildlife habitat; maintenance of livestock grazing; environmental education; public hunting; and the creation of recreation corridors connecting to existing public trails for walking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

The partnership is working cooperatively with the SLB and the BLM to accomplish the goals of the respective organizations. One of the goals of the residents of Routt County is the protection of Routt County's agricultural operations and heritage.

This always has been, along with wildlife protection, one of the main goals of the partnership. This goal is being carried out in two ways. First, through the exchange, 84 percent of the small, isolated, mostly land-locked and difficult to manage BLM parcels proposed for the exchange would be purchased by the existing agriculture lessees. Second, the partnership has the option through our Memorandum of Agreement with the SLB to work with adjacent agricultural operations who would purchase about 660 acres of the 6,300-acre parcel adjacent to their private lands.

It is contemplated that these adjacent property owners would then place this land and possibly other lands under conservation easement. In this way, the community can preserve our agricultural operations and heritage for future generations.

In the near future, the partnership hopes to have a public announcement that the BLM/SLB Emerald Mountain Exchange has been given the go-ahead from Washington. With the approval of the "Agreement to Initiate," the BLM could move forward with the public process for this exchange of BLM lands in Routt County for the 6,300-acre Emerald Mountain parcel.

Ben Beall

Chairman, Emerald Mountain Partnership Board of Directors

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