SALIDA, Colo. (AP) – U.S. Sen. Mark Udall asked for the public’s help Saturday to designate 16 square miles of federal land as a monument and wilderness in Browns Canyon.
About 400 people turned out for a public meeting in Salida on the proposed national monument. Opponents expressed concern over grazing rights and access, while supporters said a national monument designation would resolve conflicting jurisdictions and protect natural resources.
Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet have asked President Barack Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish the Browns Canyon National Monument because congressional legislation has stalled, even though there has been broad, grassroots support at other public meetings. A decision is expected by the end of this year.
The rugged and scenic canyon is near the Sawatch (suh-WAHCH’) mountains, seven miles northwest of Salida and 100 miles southwest of Denver.
Udall tried getting approval from Congress previously, but the measure was not introduced in the House. After the measure failed, Udall took his case to the public. He is also once again asking Congress for approval.
“Given the impasse in Congress and the desire in this state to create a national monument, Sen. Bennet and I are asking the president to use his authority,” Udall said after Saturday’s meeting.
The Browns Canyon National Monument would continue to be managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. The proposal also maintains existing uses, including rafting, hunting, fishing, grazing and motorized access on all designated roads in the area, Udall said.
A large portion of the national monument would also be designated as wilderness.
“Browns Canyon is a crown jewel, a diamond in the rough that needs to be granted the protection and preservation provided by national monument designation,” said David Lien, chairman of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Judith Kohler, spokeswoman for the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center, said there are a lot of mining claims and conflicting jurisdictions that must be resolved.
“If they don’t designate Browns Canyon as a national monument, it’s hard to tell what might happen in the future,” she said.
Bill Dvorak, a fishing and rafting guide along the Arkansas River, said another goal is to prevent public lands from being sold to settle the national debt. “We don’t want trophy homes on the banks of the Arkansas River,” he said.
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