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Discussions on Dolores National Monument continue with majority support

Boating is popular on the Lower Dolores River, which is being considered as a National Conservation Area. (Courtesy photo)
Sen. Michael Bennet hosts June 9 event about the proposed monument

Sen. Michael Bennet listened to Colorado residents’ thoughts and concerns regarding the movement to establish the Dolores Canyons National Monument.

Bennet arrived in Nucla for the June 9 public meeting to hear from both sides, noting that he understood the opposition’s concerns.

Bennet has said he didn’t want the areas surrounding the Dolores River to “become another Moab” after locals expressed concerns over towns like Moab and Telluride becoming “overwhelmed” tourist destinations.

“As somebody who’s worried about this place looking like Moab, I’m worried that if we don’t do anything about it, that we run a big risk, that’s the way it’s going to look. So, I think we should continue the conversation we’re having,” Bennet said.

One audience member, Hank Miller, told CPR News that he believes the monument is a done deal.

“And as far as myself and many people around here, we can already see the writing on the wall,” he said.

Despite concerns, Bennet said he wouldn’t support a proposition that didn’t protect ranching or water rights.

“I would never support a national monument that affects grazing rights or grazing leases,” Bennet said. “I would never do that. I would never (support) one that affects people’s water. I would never. And I think we need to get into the details of all of that and people need to see it as black and white.”

There are also talks about conserving areas of the Dolores River around Dolores, San Miguel and Montezuma Counties, but those talks have not moved forward thus far.

Suzanna Strazza from Dolores River Boating Advocates said in an email received by The Journal that she was among 400 people who attended the event and that supporters of the monument viewed it as a “success.”

“We had a huge turnout. Bennet did a great job mediating, very gracious, funny respectful. Opposition said all the things we expected. We said all the things they expected,” Strazza said. “All in all, from our side, it was a success.”

Strazza also said that although the conversation was civil, they were allegedly harassed as they left the building, with one woman mooning them and hurling obscenities their way.

Information provided to The Journal by the Protect the Dolores Coalition included a recent public opinion survey created by Colorado College, which showed an overwhelming 92% of Colorado voters support the monument’s establishment. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition urging Colorado senators to conserve the Dolores Canyons as a national monument.

Nearly 200 Colorado businesses have endorsed the monument’s proposal, as well as farmers, ranchers, museums, sporting retailers, real estate firms and restaurants.

The City of Grand Junction has also called for the monument’s designation, according to the city’s official website.

The Protect the Dolores Coalition said the areas surrounding the Dolores River are rich in cultural and historic sites, big game habitats, scenic beauty and recreational activities.

According to Center for Western Priorities, the purpose of Sen. Bennet’s recent visit was to help “correct misinformation about the monument proposal and to encourage civil, fact-based conversation about the future of these important public lands,” according to a June 8 news release.

Aside from protecting the land that encompasses the Dolores River area, the Center noted that national monuments help boost local economies and attract entrepreneurs to the region.

The project also has bipartisan support, with many Republicans voicing their approval of conserving land, according to Winning the West’s website.

Despite concerns about how the proposed monument would affect camping and recreational activities, those backing the proposal said that “dispersed camping and all other recreational activities would still be allowed in a future monument.”

Another concern was that the monument would negatively affect cattle ranching and mining, but “all valid, existing grazing and mining rights would be protected under a monument designation,” according to the Center for Western Priorities.

Representatives from Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers launched a “Sportsmen for the Dolores” initiative, voicing their support for the proposed monument to help “conserve fish and wildlife habitat.”

“The Dolores River offers world-class hunting and fishing opportunities, but faces threats from industrial-scale mining, habitat fragmentation, climate change and unmanaged recreation,” the June 8 news release said.

The initiative looks to “permanently conserve the Dolores River watershed, critical to retaining its high-quality sporting values,” the release said.

“These principles include creating monuments that safeguard fish and wildlife habitat, maintain reasonable public access for hunting, fishing and wildlife management and provide assurance that authority over fish and wildlife populations will be retained by state management agencies,” the release said.

Even former Ute Mountain Ute tribal council member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk voiced her support in a statement released by Protect the Dolores Coalition on June 7. She said the Dolores River and surrounding lands are the Nuchu Utes’ ancestral homelands.

“The proposed Dolores Canyons National Monument can help preserve access and protect cultural sites and landscapes,” Lopez-Whiteskunk said, adding that protection honors Indigenous connections to the area.

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