Commissioners air land issues during Tipton visit

Commissioners update Tipton on frustrations

Congressman Scott Tipton meets with Montezuma County Commissioners James Lambert, Larry Don Suckla and Keenan Ertel Wednesday morning. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/The Journal

Congressman Scott Tipton meets with Montezuma County Commissioners James Lambert, Larry Don Suckla and Keenan Ertel Wednesday morning.

Montezuma County commissioners aired grievances about the federal government to the sympathetic ear of Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton during a meeting Wednesday in county chambers.

Topics ranged from eagles and roads, to federal land policy and burdensome archaeology studies.

On eagles, commissioner Larry Don Suckla said federal buffer requirements for nests are inconsistent and unfair. A golden eagle nest in a proposed trail expansion at Phil’s World is forcing trails to be rerouted or eliminated.

“How is it that a bike trail can not go under an eagle’s nest but a bright yellow raft full of people on the Lower Dolores River can float directly under one?” he said.

On roads, the commissioners assert county ownership of Forest Road 526 (Dolores-Norwood) where it travels through the county. They paid for a study that concluded it was there before the national forest’s creation.

“It’s difficult to deny it is our road, and the forest service agrees, but they say we have to file a lawsuit” for it to be officially recognized as county jurisdiction, said commissioner Keenan Ertel.

On federal land policy, there is concern that potential restrictions on a proposed Area of Critical Environmental Concern near the Mesa Verde National Park entrance could block a key portion of the proposed 17-mile Paths to Mesa Verde trail between Cortez and Mancos.

“ACEC’s are a way to put in wilderness areas without Congressional approval,” Suckla said. “We need that section for the trail to access the national park and the community college.”

On archaeology studies, the commissioners feel they can be redundant, and hold up recreation projects. As an example they cited the Sage Hen area, which the county is pushing the forest service to re-open for overnight camping. But to do so requires archaeology studies even though they had been done prior to construction of McPhee Reservoir.

On federal land policy, Ertel was critical of the Land Water and Conservation Fund used by the BLM to buy up private land.

“Canyons of the Ancients spent millions of dollars purchasing more land, but the BLM has trouble managing what they have,” he said.

For example, a private bike club recently pitched in $5,000 toward a BLM archaeology study needed to move forward the trail expansion proposal at Phil’s World.

Tipton was sympathetic with the commissioners woes and has been fighting similar battles with federal land agencies in Washington. He said appropriation bills are the key battleground for controlling federal spending.

In a recent conversation with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Tipton said the chief “went to great lengths” to explain campground closures and reductions in services were necessary due to lack of financial resources.

“But when you look at the budget, there is a $174 million line item to purchase land,” Tipton said. “I’d rather see that money go towards fire fighting and proactive forest treatment to reduce fuels. That creates jobs, and reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

jmimiaga@the-journal.com