November 2015

Montezuma County threatens NCA plan

By Art Goodtimes

NATIONAL MONUMENT? … For seven years a National Conservation Area (NCA) has been the goal of a diverse group of stakeholders in the Southwest corner of the state, including San Miguel, Dolores, Montrose and Montezuma counties. The working group has been meeting regularly to see if a locally-forged plan for a Dolores River NCA and adjacent wilderness would provide sufficient protection for the conservation community, while still protecting the rights of existing waterusers and some future water possibilities. As with most rural areas of the West, Western Slope communities are generally eager to avoid Wild & Scenic River designation. There’d been widespread agreement with the NCA plan and the group’s legislative committee had even started working on federal draft legislation. That was about when a couple of concerned folks, including Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, talked the Montezuma County board into coming out in public opposition to the draft NCA plan … Of course, for a Green and a longtime enviro like myself, and on behalf of our eco-conscious county, I had told the group in the beginning (seven years ago) that San Miguel County citizens would love to see Wild & Scenic River designation for the entire stretch of the Dolores that runs through the county’s west end. However, over the course of our many meetings, most folks have negotiated in good faith to a point where -- water buffaloes, ranchers, conservationists, river rafters, government regulators and state rights folks – the group feels the Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs) and private property and water rights are best safeguarded with the NCA … But if the process falls apart — and all it takes is one major stakeholder, like Montezuma County, to make it fail – then I believe many of us on the conservationist side of the table will join in working to convince President Obama, as part of his Western legacy, to designate the Dolores River a National Monument and provide federal protection for this national treasure. Let’s hope Montezuma County rethinks its opposition and that unilateral federal action doesn’t happen.

THE TALKING GOURD

Choose

The world is chosen.
We are not.

What comes to us
is random.

Making in the onslaught
human

is up to you.
A blossom

in the mess
is all we have to do.

— Jack Mueller
Ridgway, Colo.

COUNTY ROAD 40J … Calling the Gray Family “partners” in a real estate buy-back deal, Colorado’s State Land Board (SLB) effectively closed public access to the west side of Lone Cone from the Norwood-Dolores Road in San Miguel County and refused pleas from both San Miguel and Dolores Counties at an SLB meeting in Denver last week to work cooperatively to restore traditional access to U.S. Forest Service land via County Road 40J … In 2002, the SLB sold to the Gray Family School Section 16 (T42N, R13W, N.M.P.M.), over which CR 40J runs for a mile or two. The Gray Family immediately barricaded the road in a right-of-way dispute. For over a decade, San Miguel and Dolores Counties have been working to re-acquire the right-of-way from the Gray Family legally. However, thanks to deep pockets, the Gray Family and their attorney Andy Mueller have been able delay that process for a dozen years with litigation, including appeals to District Court (they lost), the Colorado Court of Appeals (they lost), to the Colorado Supreme Court (they lost) and finally to the Dept. of Interior Land Board of Appeals (still in process – for 6 years now and counting). Then, last year, without notifying the counties, SLB went into secret negotiations with their “partners” and bought back School Section 16 – precluding any further attempt at condemnation for CR 40J, as SLB land can’t be condemned by local governments. As part of the deal between “partners”, SLB immediately leased the land purchased from the Gray Family back to the Gray Family for hunting and grazing -- apparently at below market rates … Due to the reshuffled ownership of the disputed School Section 16, it seems unlikely now that San Miguel County will ever have a chance to regain easy access to lands on the west side of Lone Cone. It would appear that rich landowners and their state “partners” have closed the public’s traditional route to public lands on CR 40J forever … It’s a sad day for local hunters and hikers.

NORWOOD-DOLORES ROAD … Ever had a wheel break off & leave you three-wheeling & dragging a brake drum in the roadway? I have. Twice now … Most recently last week coming home the back way from Cortez and from a shouting match with Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla. We were arguing over a National Conservation Area for the Dolores River. Looks like some folks want to scotch the NCA proposal that San Miguel, Dolores and Montrose counties, as well as dozens of Dolores River stakeholder groups, have been working on for the last seven years … But I digress … I was driving back home just as the sun was setting. I kept hearing a strange noise, but I couldn’t find anything wrong under the borrowed truck I was driving. Then, long about the time I reached the well-lit gas plant in Dolores County, my left rear tire snapped off from the brake drum and sent me plowing a furrow into the gravel road. I was, to mix metaphors, dead in the water. My cell phone didn’t work. It was dark. The truck had no flashlight. I found the tire, but nobody was home at the gas plant. I was weighing options when a fellow drove up. I gave him my son’s number to call in Norwood when he got to Cortez. I was still mulling over what to do when a jeep drove up a bit later. I asked to borrow a flashlight and said I’d return it if they gave me an address, figuring I’d try to jack the truck up and get the tire back on somehow. But the two hunters said they weren’t leaving me out there alone … Long story short, Jerry Smith of Dolores and his partner (whose shouted name I couldn’t hear as I waved them goodbye) found my brake drum casing, cannibalized lug nuts from the other three tires, and had the errant wheel back on within a half hour. I limped home over Lone Cone that night, secure in the thought that a potential stranding on a lonely road ended up but a minor inconvenience, thanks to a couple of good Samaritans. It’s exactly why I love living in rural Colorado. Deep thanks, gentlemen.

POTPOURRI … Loved the Pope’s message of mercy and compassion; rued his canonization of Junipera Serra, czar of California’s Mission concentration camps; and marveled that he singled out two counter-cultural American Catholics, both of whom were early heroes of mine as a Vatican II Catholic seminarian – Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement and monk, poet & inspirational writer Thomas Merton … In French, sparkling wines are called pétnats, short for pétillant-naturel (“naturally effervescent”). Unlike champagne that requires extra effort and a shot of yeast for carbonation, a pét-nat gets its bubbly from the grapes own yeasts and sugar … An unusual new species identified in 2013 is Bothriechis guifarroi, a bright green pit viper named for Honduran conservationist Mario Guifarro, who was killed while fighting illegal logging … Tiktaalik [species roseae] was the fishapod that sprouted feet in a Devonian swamp 375 million years ago, leading, we think, the movement from ocean denizens to land critters. First fossils of this ancient evolutionary ancestor were found in 2004 on Ellesmere Island, Canada.

Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.