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BLM taking public comments

The Bureau of Land Management has set up a series of open house meetings throughout Routt County to discuss the Emerald Mountain land exchange and how to best manage the land if the exchange is completed.

The public meetings are part of the final leg in the process of finalizing the land trade of scattered BLM parcels for Emerald Mountain.

The BLM will start out its series in Steamboat Springs with a meeting from 3 to 8 p.m. March 7 at Olympian Hall. A second meeting is scheduled from 3 to 8 p.m. March 8 at Oak Creek Town Hall. A third meeting is set for 3 to 8 p.m. March 9 at Hayden Town Hall.

Those interested also have until March 30 to send comments to the BLM’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig to comment about the proposed land trade and how the BLM should manage Emerald Mountain.

At the open house meetings, the BLM will answer questions about the pros and cons of the exchange and the proposed plans for managing Emerald Mountain, said BLM Planning and Environment Coordinator Duane Johnson. The BLM also will take comments about those two items at the meeting.

“Everything we do is a public process,” Johnson said. “It’s their land, and we want input on how it is managed. It doesn’t matter if they live in Steamboat, Craig or Chicago. It is still public land.”

The Emerald Mountain land swap has been in the works for almost three years, with the hopes of trading 129 scattered parcels of BLM land in Routt County totaling 15,621 acres to private ownership and putting ownership of 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain in BLM hands. The money generated from selling BLM land to private owners will be given to the State Land Board, which owns Emerald Mountain.

Johnson said the BLM hopes to have the decision to move forward with the trade finalized by late fall or early winter. Land appraisals for the scattered parcels in the trade and Emerald Mountain are expected to occur this summer, Johnson said.

The initial decision to approve the land swap is in the hands of Little Snake Field Office Field Manager John Husband. From there, the trade has to be approved by the state and then national directors.

As part of the public process, the BLM is asking residents to comment about a management plan for Emerald Mountain that would go into effect if the trade is approved. The BLM is looking at what recreational uses should be allowed, the effects on wildlife, whether livestock grazing should be allowed and concerns with mineral development on the land, Husband said.

“In this case, even though (Emerald Mountain) is a large area, as far as access, it is isolated from any other BLM land,” Johnson said. “If the exchange does happen, we want to have a plan in place in how it is managed.”

At the open houses, Johnson said, BLM representatives will be available to talk about the recreational, wildlife, grazing and mineral issues. Representatives from the Western Land Group, which is helping to facilitate the swap, also will be on hand to discuss the aspects of the land exchange.

After the public process period is finished, Johnson said, the BLM would take the comments and create alternatives for the management of Emerald Mountain. The comments will be factored into the decision about the land swap.

The decision boils down to whether the field manager thinks the land gained in the trade has an equal value to the land lost, Johnson said.

“If we didn’t think there was a good chance it would be an equal value, we would have never gone this far in the process. Right now, we think that is the way it is going to go,” he said. “But until everything is on the table for (Husband) to look at, he can’t make that decision.”

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com