The Bureau of Land Management Tres Rios Field Office has designated three areas of critical environmental concern in Montezuma and San Miguel counties.
The new amendment to the 2015 Resource Management Plan designates the Mesa Verde Escarpment (7,373 acres) and Ancestral Puebloan ACEC (792 acres) in Montezuma County, and the Gypsum Valley ACEC (6,170 acres) in San Miguel County.
Areas deemed of critical environmental concern require special management attention to protect and prevent damage to important historic, cultural and scenic values; fish, wildlife resources or other natural systems or processes; or to protect human life and safety from natural hazards.
The designation allows for development and recreation with potential conditions with a management focus to avoid or protect areas with significant ecological or cultural values.
“These areas are unique places, and designating them as ACECs is one of the tools that allow the BLM to provide customized management for the historical, cultural and natural resources contained within them,” said Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson.
The three ACECs were designated out of 17 nominated parcels analyzed as part of an environmental assessment that included public comment.
The other nominated parcels were not designated as ACECs because current regulations in the resource management plan were deemed sufficient to protect them, BLM officials said.
No decision is being made on the proposed Dry Creek Basin and Northdale/Northdale Expansion ACECs because they are considered as part of the Gunnison Sage Grouse Rangewide Draft Resource Management Plan.
Mesa Verde Escarpment ACECThe area south of Cortez contains archaeological sites, rare plants and a striking landscape. It has limited public access and is a very undisturbed natural area. The adjacent Mesa Verde National Park nominated the lands for the ACEC. The area’s status as no-surface occupancy for oil and gas development remains.
Ancestral Puebloan ACECThe Ancestral Puebloan ACEC is off Montezuma County Road 21 in the Mud Springs area southwest of Cortez. It protects archaeological and cultural resources while allowing recreational opportunities.
It was downsized to better divide the special recreation management area and ACEC.
“The new ACEC boundary focuses on where the cultural resources are highest,” said BLM planner Keith Fox.
Current hiking, biking, horse and motor routes will not be changed. The proposed ACEC boundary was moved away from motorized routes.
Gypsum Valley ACEC The Gypsum Valley ACEC north of Slick Rock 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.