BLM works on plan

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Alternatives for how to manage 1.3 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Northwest Colorado long into the future are almost finished.

The next step is for the BLM to assess those alternatives, which have been drawn up with the help of the public, and ultimately choose how to manage the land. The most recent Resource Management Plan for the area was drafted in 1989.

The new plan will outline decisions such as what types of uses -- including hunting, motorized recreation, livestock grazing and mineral extraction -- the BLM will allow in various areas.

The four alternatives that are nearly complete cover the spectrum of how the public land, as well as the BLM's 1.1 million subsurface acres, should be managed, said Jeremy Casterson, planning coordinator for the BLM Little Snake Field Office.

Alternative A is to keep the management plan as it is now.

Alternative B is heavy on oil and gas production, allowing such development in most public lands.

Alternative D has more of a preservation theme and recommends that more areas stay closed to oil and gas exploration.

Alternative C is the "middle of the road" plan, with flexible management principles, Casterson said.

Covering the extremes of how the land could be managed through alternatives allows the BLM to analyze a range of scenarios, he said.

The alternatives are addressed in a 150-page document available online. The final alternatives will be released soon and then will be assessed. After that assessment is released, public comment will be taken.

A draft management plan could be released in spring 2006, followed by further public comments and the release of a proposed management plan in spring 2007.

Through the process of drafting a new management plan, the public should not face typical frustrations of commenting about alternatives and then not hearing from the BLM until a draft plan is presented, Casterson said.

Rather, for this process, the BLM is making an effort to get the public involved almost every step of the way, with the goal of having a transparent process, he said.

"We need to be able to show what we're doing all the way," he said.

One major benefit of this process is that stakeholders are educated about the different management options and what's feasible, he said. The BLM also gains a good understanding of what the stakeholders' needs are.

"The discussion that goes on there and the information sharing really helps us draft a plan that addresses the issue," Casterson said.

The Northwest Colorado Stewardship group, which is open to everyone and has more than 50 individuals who regularly attend meetings, has worked closely with the BLM on this process to create a new Resource Management Plan.

The group has met frequently this summer, meeting more than 40 hours in July.

The unfinished alternatives can be seen at www.nwcos.org.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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