How hunters and anglers are helping to shape the future of more than 600,000 acres—including gold-medal trout streams and some of the best of the backcountry—in Colorado, and why these public lands are so critical
Public lands in Colorado’s lower Arkansas River drainage are where you’ll find healthy and huntable populations of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, turkeys, pronghorn antelope, and many other iconic Western game animals. As a lifelong sportsman and the TRCP staffer working most closely with the BLM in the region, I’ve personally witnessed the critical balance required to manage these public lands for all of their many values. BLM-managed lands near La Veta Pass and the Southern Sangre de Cristo Range are about as wild and remote as Colorado gets. And more than a thousand elk congregate each winter around the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area in South Park, where interest in oil and gas development has also increased.
Balancing energy development with the needs of fish and wildlife is personal to local sportsmen, because these places and critters are entwined with our memories in the outdoors. I’ve pulled rainbow and brown trout from nearly every section of the Arkansas River, from Pueblo Reservoir all the way up to the Hayden Flats and tributaries fed by high-elevation runoff. Trout and walleye from the South Platte drainage have landed on my plate more often than any meat from my local grocer. I’ve ice fished in South Park, pulled walleyes from Front Range reservoirs, and chased cutthroats from within the Pike National Forest. This week I’m heading down to Huerfano County, and if I’m lucky, I’ll take a gobbler.
These public lands mean a hell of a lot to me, but their future actually depends on you.
The value of lands managed by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office cannot be understated, and right now they need your help. Sportsmen have a once-in-a-few-decades chance to be part of the public process that determines how 668,000 acres of these lands will be used for the next 20 years.
This plan covers nearly all of eastern Colorado’s public lands. All BLM lands east of the Sangre de Cristo’s coming out of New Mexico, north through central Colorado, and all the way up to Wyoming are included. So, it is a big deal.
Initial discussions on these plans began as early as eight years ago, but right now is the first chance for the public to comment on the BLM’s proposed alternatives. Since the very first conversations about how best to balance all the demands on these lands, a lot has changed, but the objective to keep them open to a backcountry turkey hunter or a herd of elk trying to make it through the tough winter months has, and must, remain. The BLM has done a good job so far on this plan, and we need to make sure positive elements of the proposal continue moving forward, while addressing parts of the plan that need attention.Balancing energy development w/ the needs of fish & #wildlife is personal to local #sportsmen in CO. Click To Tweet
The biggest benefit of the proposal may be a focus on the future management of BLM lands that provide world-class recreation opportunities and habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, pronghorn sheep, wild trout, and a multitude of other critters. Some specific areas have been recommended by sportsmen for management as Backcountry Conservation Areas and are proposed for consideration in the BLM preliminary draft management plan. Altogether, these comprise about 120,000 acres of BLM public lands that would continue to provide hunters and anglers with high-quality, year-round recreation opportunities and provide wildlife managers with the flexibility needed to sustain top notch habitat. If we stay the course and these proposals are adopted, we’d be guaranteed responsible and balanced land management in the best of the backcountry—a very positive outcome for hunters and anglers.
Our goal is within reach, but first, the BLM needs to hear from you. Whether you see yourself fishing on the Arkansas River, calling in turkeys on crisp spring or fall mornings, or hunting elk, deer, or antelope in the fall, these lands and the opportunities they provide us are worth fighting for.