The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service announced Monday that an amended resource management plan for the Browns Canyon National Monument has been approved.
The plan’s aim is to guide agencies’ oversight of recreation activities within the monument, while allowing for infrastructure that will help protect monument resources in anticipation of increased visitation and recreational use.
In general, the plan will primarily provide for nonmotorized and nonmechanical recreation in a primitive backcountry setting.
It will emphasize proactive access to areas where increased visitation is likely to occur and allow for designation of nonmechanical trails and climbing routes to be established.
It will also prohibit collection of monument resources, like rocks and fossils. Wilderness study areas within the monument will also continue to be protected.
“Overall, it’s great to see many of the local, community-led recommendations were included in the (record of decision),” Michael Kunkel, co-founder of Friends of Browns Canyon said.
He said some of the highlights of the management plan that were improvements from what was proposed in the draft plan last year include increased emphasis on protection of wildlife, particularly bighorn sheep lambing habitat and sensitive raptor habitat. This includes seasonal restrictions for raptor nesting areas and bighorn sheep lambing areas.
The approved plan also incorporates many of our coalition’s suggestions for recreation management zones. The vast majority of the monument is within the River East Management Zone, which is to be managed as “primitive,” which most closely aligns with protecting wilderness qualities, Kunkel said.
Additionally, he said the Forest Service Aspen Ridge Roadless Area will be managed in a manner “that protects and maintains the social and ecological characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness recommendation,” noting the majority of the Aspen Ridge Roadless Area has been inventoried as suitable for consideration as wilderness.
The Friends of Browns Canyon filed a protest letter during the 30-day protest period challenging shooting in the monument and the removal of the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designation. The BLM, however, denied all 10 of the protests it received.
Kunkel said it would have been nice to have a second protection granted by the ACEC designation. “It would have been nice if that remained,” he said. “It was just another overlay.”
Kunkel, however, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that this will be the inception for proper management that’s needed in the environment.
“The approved management plan incorporates most of the recommendations that our local coalition submitted during the planning process and includes significant improvements over the draft resource management plan that was proposed last year,” Kunkel said. “This represents a huge win for our local communities and for everyone who supports protecting the unique natural and cultural resources in the national monument.”
“Now is the time to implement the RMP and start implementing the recommendations within it,” Kunkel said. “Let’s put it into practice. It needs to be implemented.”
Kunkel and the BLM both mentioned the amount of collaboration and effort in coming to a consensus with the agencies as a good thing.
Monday’s Records of Decision adopt the agencies’ preferred alternative from the proposed RMP released in April as the RMP for the monument.
This alternative consists of elements of the three draft alternatives and significantly incorporates cooperating agency input from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, Chaffee County, the City of Salida, the Town of Buena Vista, the public and stakeholders – including incorporation of management actions from a citizens’ alternative and endorsed by cooperating agencies, businesses and other organizations.
“The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service greatly appreciate all those who contributed to the Browns Canyon planning efforts, particularly members of the public, cooperating agencies, and state and local governments,” said BLM Royal Gorge Field Manager Keith Berger. “Extensive public interest and involvement in the planning process has helped ensure that the plan will sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the monument for present and future generations to use and enjoy.”
Browns Canyon National Monument’s river corridor lies within the broader Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA). The Browns Canyon segment accounts for between 40-45 percent of the overall commercial river use in the AHRA and contributed approximately $30 million to Colorado’s economy in 2018, according to a press release.
The Records of Decision, the RMP, and associated documents are available online at go.usa.gov/xn2eC.
“Under this administration, the BLM has expanded access and recreational opportunities throughout the West. This plan reflects extensive work with our federal and state partners, local communities, other stakeholders, and the public to develop this plan, which balances outdoor recreation opportunities and plans for the future of the monument and the anticipated increase in visitors that will come to experience this amazing place,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley.
Kunkel said that despite the designation of Browns Canyon National Monument 5 years ago, resource damage has continued in a variety of areas.
“Now that the record of decision has been released by the BLM and USFS, it is imperative that the agencies implement and enforce the protections and management described in the Resource Management Plan,” he said.
“We are glad to see strong management provisions laid out in the RMP, but implementation of those provisions are key to successful protection,” Kunkel said.
Friends of Browns Canyon wants to work closely with the federal agencies to hold them accountable to ensure protection for this special landscape.
“We recognize that the Monument is invaluable to so many people and species,” Kunkel said. “If this plan is actually implemented, it will ensure sustainable visitation and protection for decades to come for current and future generations.”