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Our View: Dolores monument proposal depends on compromise

Varied mix of users coming together over possibilities

Advocates for and opponents of the proposed Dolores National Monument share a commonality – a passion for this wild, glorious place. This natural wonder that wows.

But they’ve landed on conflicting conclusions. Caustic comments, declarations of evil doing and land grabbing make the news. After the June 9 meeting in Nucla with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, there was even a mooning incident that demonstrates discontent but has us questioning the method of delivery.

This characterizes much of the debate. Let’s face it, some opponents in Mesa and Montrose counties will never support a monument that designates 400,000 acres of contiguous land to be managed and permanently protected.

But it’s not all lines drawn in river sand.

Progress is being made in civil, fact-based conversations among advocates, ranchers, miners and locals who share the sense that the beloved Dolores River and its canyons, brimming with biodiversity, are worthy of protection.

Threats to this sensitive, exquisite nature are very real, as more people discover it. Anyone who has spent time on the river under red-rock walls knows the magnificence of this place gets inside of you. It’s not a landscape you forget.

These bipartisan stakeholders who walk in very different worlds are taking field trips together, standing on rock ledges and pointing toward possible boundary changes. Bending over maps, they’re talking about valid mining claims, confirming access issues and hammering out possibilities.

This shows respect for the process. It gives us hope, too.

They appear to have the numbers, too, to get it done. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging Colorado senators to favor a national monument. Nearly 200 businesses have endorsed the proposal, as well as farmers, museums, sporting retailers and restaurants. In February, 92% of respondents of a Colorado College poll showed support.

The Halt the Dolores Monument group from the West End of Montrose County has close to 8,000 petitioners.

Ideally, robust backing for the monument, along with a revised rough draft that reflects diverse users’ needs, will sway Bennet and U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, who have not yet taken a stance.

If successful, stakeholders’ efforts – in a much shorter time – could mirror neighbors’ work farther south.

Over 14 years, a mix as varied as you’ve ever seen crafted legislation that would become the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Act, backed by Bennet, Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in 2022, that protects more than 68,000 acres of public land along a coveted 75-mile stretch below McPhee Dam in Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties. The area includes the spectacular Ponderosa Gorge.

It took much compromise to get there.

Of course, the controversy has rural communities facing urban outsiders’ influence. But public lands belong to all of us. Speaking of, those land-grab accusations get under our skin. It’s already public land so a “grab” doesn’t make sense.

Fear and speculation are driving opposition. Understandable. But there’s no room or reason for misinformation. Halt the Dolores Monument’s website says a designation “threatens to impose severe economic hardships.”

One concern is the possibility of – and desire for – uranium mining to make a comeback, bringing good paying jobs. The site says a monument would “risk future access to current trails” and “public grazing permits,” and “has potential of limiting or halting future clean energy development.”

All debunked multiple times. Yet, the site isn’t updated.

More people than not want permanent protection for the Dolores River and its canyons – the city of Grand Junction, tribal and other local leaders, and users from all walks of life.

Anyone who’s been on this grand landscape understands its importance. It may come down, though, to degrees of reverence.