The Bureau of Land Management seeks comment on a preliminary environmental assessment of 17 areas of public lands in Southwest Colorado proposed for designation as areas of critical environmental concern.
ACECs are not well-known to the public, said BLM communication director Steven Hall, and are mainly a management tool to protect ecological or cultural areas.
The designation allows for new development and recreation with potential conditions, he said, and helps protect areas with significant value or resources. The land retains existing regulations.
“ACECs give planners a management focus when analyzing a proposed project in order to avoid identified sensitive areas,” Hall said.
The environmental assessment is part of a draft amendment to the BLM Tres Rios Field Office’s resource management plan. It was needed because ACEC’s were not included as required in the 2015 planning document.
The 17 proposed ACECs cover 87,846 acres of BLM land in Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties, managed by the Tres Rios and Gunnison field offices.
“Many of these areas were initially identified in the resource management plan that was finalized in 2015, and an additional area was added based on public input received during the scoping period,” said Connie Clementson, Tres Rios field manager. “As we complete the analysis, we will continue to work with the local community and our partners to ensure these areas support the BLM’s multiple-use management.”
The BLM analysis of the proposed ACECs suggests that the majority have adequate protection. The BLM’s preferred option is to designate one new 7,337-acre Mesa Verde Escarpment ACEC and downsize two other ACECs.
Under the preferred alternative, the existing Ancestral Puebloan (Mud Springs) ACEC would be reduced from its current 1,000 acres to 792 acres.
The existing Gypsum Valley ACEC would be reduced from its current 13,135 acres to 6,170 acres.
The reduction allows more focused management of the protected resources, said Keith Fox, a BLM planner with the Tres Rios office.
Ancestral Puebloan ACECThe Ancestral Puebloan ACEC is off Montezuma County Road 21 in the Mud Springs area. It protects archaeological and cultural resources while allowing recreational opportunities.
Fox said it was downsized to better divide the special recreation management area and ACEC.
“Right now, the two areas overlap each other, creating some management challenges,” he said. “The proposed new ACEC boundary focuses on where the cultural resources are highest.”
Current hiking, biking, horse and motor routes will not be changed. The proposed ACEC boundary was moved away from motorized routes.
Gypsum Valley ACECThe Gypsum Valley ACEC was created to protect special status plants: Gypsum rim-lichen, nodule cracked lichen, flex-stemmed Mariposa lily, Nealley’s dropseed, Gypsum Valley cat-eye, short-stem penstemon and Naturita milkvetch.
Reducing the area’s size would allow the BLM to focus on the gypsefoirus soils that support special plant species. A cliff area with raptors in the current ACEC was dropped because planners say additional raptor management is not needed, and the area is not the main area of gypsefoirus soils.
Mesa Verde EscarpmentThe proposed Mesa Verde Escarpment ACEC is 7,373 acres and contains archaeological sites, rare plants and a striking landscape.
“The area has limited public access and is a very undisturbed natural area, making it unique,” Fox said.
The adjacent Mesa Verde National Park nominated the lands for the ACEC.
Fox said the proposed Mesa Verde Escarpment ACEC would allow for a proposed route for the Paths to Mesa Verde Trail if the trail avoided sensitive plant and archeology areas and mitigated impacts.
The area’s status as no-surface occupancy for oil and gas development would remain, but directional drilling could still be considered if the well was on private land.
The BLM left off 14 ACECs in its preferred alternative because current regulations in the resource management plan were deemed sufficient to protect them, Fox said.
“We thought that those areas have good protections in place and did not need special attention,” he said.
He said the analysis for proposed ACECs in the Silverton area at Lake Como, Cement Creek and Cinnamon Pass showed that rare plants and iron fens in the area were adequately protected.
The BLM has deferred consideration of the Dry Creek Basin and Northdale ACECs – which contain habitat for Gunnison sage grouse – to the rangewide plan for the Gunnison sage grouse. The rangewide amendment draft would provide management measures and outcomes for the areas, including possible ACEC designation.
A list of areas and corresponding details can be found at https://go.usa.gov/xnU6U.
Comments should be received by April 22 and be sent to the BLM, Attn. Keith Fox, 29211 Colorado Highway 184, Dolores, CO, 81323 or submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.