BLM releases Emerald plans

Comments about mountain's future accepted until May 1

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— The long-anticipated land swap for Emerald Mountain reached another milestone with the release of a draft management plan and environmental assessment by the Bureau of Land Management.

Interested members of the public have until May 1 to comment in writing about four management plans contained in the environmental assessment. The land swap would explain public access to nearly 4,400 acres of undeveloped land on the mountain that dominates views to the west and south from Steamboat Springs.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership, a group of residents with representation from local government, submitted one of the four proposals. The partnership's management plan would permit a variety of nonmotorized recreational uses and agricultural activities, as long as those uses don't harm the environment on the mountain.

"If we can protect the natural resources, and have some recreation, it will be good," Partnership spokes----man Ben Beall said.

The state trust lands on Emerald Mountain are managed by the State Land Board. The board identified the Emerald Mountain parcel for sale. Local governments and citizen groups, through the Emerald Mountain Partnership, have sought an alternative. The swap, facilitated by the Western Land Group, would exchange the land on Emerald for 15,500 BLM acres comprising 127 small parcels scattered across the area.

The State Land Board could then realize cash for public schools through the sale of the former BLM parcels. Management of the forests and high meadows on Emerald would shift to the BLM.

"The public would get the spectacular Emerald Mountain parcel in exchange for isolated parcels that are extremely difficult for BLM to manage and have little or no public access," said the BLM's Little Snake Field Office manager John Husband.

Of the total number of parcels, 76 have no public access.

Yet, not everyone in Routt County is pleased with the proposed swap. Landowners and BLM lessees whose property borders the small BLM properties say acquiring the public parcels through sale is a burden on longstanding agricultural operations.

Beall said the partnership sought to protect local interests by advocating a land swap process that would provide lessees an opportunity to buy the land. Lessees have been given consideration in case their land shares a border with at least 50 percent of a BLM parcel.

"It's better than if it was put up to bid," Beall said. "If we did that, nobody in the county would get them."

The partnership management plan would allow wildlife watching, limited public hunting, livestock grazing, education opportunities and public trails for hiking, skiing, horseback riding and mountain biking.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com.

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