Opposition focused on losing public lands


Public land should remain public regardless of its size, shape or location.

That was the view of several landowners who attended an open house in Hayden on Wednesday about the proposed Emerald Mountain land exchange.

In the swap, the Bureau of Land Management would sell about 15,600 acres of public land in Routt County to purchase about 6,345 acres of land on Emerald Mountain.

The Hayden meeting was the third held by the BLM to gather feedback about the proposal and management issues if it is approved. Meetings also were held in Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek.

"I'm a big public land user -- I use public lands every weekend," said Rebecca Rolando, who helped start Citizens to Save Public Lands, which opposes the swap. " I want it to be there for my kids."

A big advantage of the swap is it would allow the BLM to consolidate oddly shaped parcels that are scattered throughout the county and hard to manage, BLM project manager Duane Johnson said.

The BLM has identified 129 parcels -- many of which are less than 41 acres -- as candidates for the exchange. In general, fees from grazing leases on those parcels amount to one-tenth the cost of managing the land, he said.

But residents, such as Lyle and Gail Valora, whose property borders a 160-acre BLM parcel in the swap, are skeptical of that argument.

"In 20 years, we haven't seen a BLM manager out there," said Gail Valora who, along with her husband, sported a bright red "Stop the Swap" T-shirt.

"It's been the locals that have taken care of the property," Lyle Valora added.

Although the BLM land near their property doesn't have public access, the Valoras said they and other neighboring landowners frequently use the parcel and give others permission to access the land.

The couple shared the view of other residents who said they resent having that land taken away for something they likely won't use.

"We won't drive extra miles to go use it," Lyle Valora said. "I have a real problem with trading everybody else's land for (Steamboat's) benefit."

Attendance at the Hayden meeting was similar to the South Routt meeting, with 10 to 15 people coming in the first several hours. About 80 people -- mostly supporters of the swap -- attended the Steamboat Springs meeting.

Although there was more opposition outside Steamboat Springs, some people's views lightened after they saw a map and understood that only 14 of the parcels in the proposed swap have public access, said Tim Wohlgenant of the Western Land Group, which is helping facilitate the process.

"For a lot of people, that makes a difference," he said.

Rolando, however, is adamant that no parcels with public access should be in the swap.

"We want those all pulled out," she said.

The BLM is collecting comments regarding the swap and possible uses through the end of the month. The agency plans to do survey work investigating wildlife and other aspects of the Emerald Mountain land in preparation for a management plan should the swap go through, Johnson said.

Some residents in Hayden were concerned that motorized vehicles and hunting may not be part of the future plan.

"I feel it should include full recreational use with no restrictions," Rolando said. "I should be able to take my snowmobile or ATV up and be able to use that land."

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com


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