Category: Features

North Fork National Forests. So what is a GMUG?

Crossposted at

Conservation & the Public Lands “Essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method”

America’s public lands are a national birthright, an exemplar of global conservation leadership, and a tremendous source of local pride and benefit.  In the North Fork Valley our National Forest lands are a testament to the foresight of leaders from more than a century ago, and the wisdom of our own forebears.

Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method. Theodore Roosevelt

The National Forest lands in the North Fork valley are mostly within the Gunnison National Forest, which is itself part of a larger ‘administrative unit’ of three individual forests often referred to as the ‘GMUG’ or Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forests.  Colorado has eleven National Forests, managed as 6 units.  As a single unit the GMUG is the largest. (However, the White River National Forest is the largest single National Forest in the state).

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Mosquitoes, Beetles & Global Warming – Climate Change and Colorado’s Great Outdoors

(Crossposted at Colorado Pols)

Colorado, summertime. The living is easy…

Sure we have some of the best winter recreation in the world, and Color Sunday drives and hunting season make fall the busiest part of the season for many Colorado communities. But there is something about a Rocky Mountain summer that is hard to beat.

The wet May and early, heavy monsoons much of the state has been getting since, have brought forth wildflowers that many say are the most outrageous, rainbow array seen in years.  Truly a display of Colorado pride.

All the moisture, and warm weather between, has also led to another fact in this year’s backcountry – there are lots of mosquitoes out there.  And mosquitoes are not just an annoyance, but bring public health warnings.  In Colorado, for the West Nile Virus, which is likely to become an even larger problem under climate change.

Invasive species aren’t just species — they can also be pathogens. Such is the case with the West Nile virus.

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Proposed BLM Rule Could Recoup Billions for U.S. Taxpayers, Help Avert Climate Catastrophe

(Crossposted at Colorado Pols)

Like a number of communities in Colorado, the valley where I live has been engaged in an effort to constrain oil and gas development to keep it out of our water supplies, our favorite recreational areas, our towns, farms and communities.

This effort has been met with mixed success.  We banded together to stop an ill-advised Bureau of Land Management lease sale, deferring it twice.  We compelled the BLM to consider a community-based alternative as it revises its very stale 1980s era land use plan, and local conservation groups have successfully challenged some other projects—sending them back for a time to the drawing board.

But more than 80,000 acres of public lands are leased in the upper reaches of the North Fork, many private lands are already under industry control, and Texas billionaires with privately held gas companies have their sights on acquiring more.

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The “Church,” Climate Change, and the Decline of the Bees

(Crossposted at Colorado Pols)

The Pope is getting all the news today on Climate, having clarified – the faithful are told to believe—that God is not OK with trashing the earth, and that we need to do something about that.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”

But as Francis has his eyes on all Creation – the World writ large – the sometimes mysterious working of the world in detail are where most of the stuff gets done.  Like pollination.  This week is, after all, also National Pollinators Week.

Birds, and bees and others among the panoply of species populating our planet are not just buzzing around your sugary drink, or swooping hotdogs off your picnic table.  They too are doing the Lord’s bidding, in small but crucial ways.  Like keeping three-quarters of the world’s plants alive.

Most people know by now that bees are in decline and that this is a major problem – for the obvious reasons, because we also like food.  Some important food crops, like corn, are wind pollinated.  But most rely on pollinators

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Join Us At the Western CO Climate Challenge

Western Colorado Climate Challenge & Solar Fair

May 1 -3 in Paonia, Colorado
Hosted by: Climate Colorado and Solar Energy International


“Solving Colorado’s Climate Crisis through Rapid-Prototyping Change”

Sponsors include The Hive Paonia, Western Slope Conservation Center, Mountain West Strategies, and Community Office for Resource Efficiency

Tickets available here



Wednesday April 29, 2015

PrintThe Western Colorado Climate Challenge & Solar Fair will bring a full weekend of fun, exhibits, presentations, and hands on breakout sessions aimed at resolving the climate crisis.

“Climate Colorado is excited to bring this model to Western Colorado,” said Robert Castellino founder of the Colorado Climate Summit. “Involving area experts and partners, looking at regional issues and resources, this event applies rapid prototyping techniques to craft actionable plans for local change: we see this weekend as a historic opportunity to address the climate crisis by developing collaborative and on-the-ground solutions.”

The weekend opens with the Solar Fair at Solar Energy International that will include the launch of the Solarize North Fork Valley project, and closes with a special Sunday matinee showing of the acclaimed documentary Merchants of Doubt.

“The Solarize North Fork Valley project intends to focus resources, expertise and other incentives to help residents of the North Fork valley install more solar capacity on their businesses and homes,” said Kristen O’Brien with Solar Energy International.  “We are excited to bring together the launch of this much anticipated project with the Climate Challenge.  Both are all about moving past barriers and getting work done in communities.”

The conference “Solving Colorado’s Climate Crisis through Rapid-Prototyping Change” runs all day Saturday and Sunday morning, and focuses on issues specific to western Colorado communities and resources. Sunday afternoon is rounded out with field trips and the matinee.  Snacks, receptions, and Saturday lunch include local farm-fresh offerings and craft beverages.

At the heart of the Climate Challenge is the Switch 2020 Contract that sets a goal of cutting individual, business, and community carbon footprints to net zero and to cutting water consumption in half.  Presentations will orient participants to the issues at hand, and then breakout sessions will develop solutions and plans that will then be tested and reiterated through a rapid prototyping exercise led by skilled facilitators.   At the end of the event participants will be a part of team with an actionable plan to solve these problems.

“The Western Colorado Climate Challenge is a chance to make a difference on the Western Slope,” said event organizer Pete Kolbenschlag with Mountain West Strategies.  “We can no longer wait for the political system to respond, especially when Colorado loses out.  We are uniquely positioned to be a global leader in the new energy economy and a model for smarter resource use.  The purpose of the Climate Challenge is to help bring that transition about.”

Registration & tickets are required for the Saturday & Sunday conference. The Solar Fair is free and open to the public, and includes exhibits, live music by Brodie Kinder and the Killer Bees, Ky Burt and other special guests, and local refreshments. The Sunday (3pm) matinee showing of Merchants of Doubt, at Paonia’s Paradise Theatre, is open to the public for a $5 donation.

Learn more at

Saturday Plenaries:

Presentation: “Water, Western Colorado and Climate Change”

Panel: “Breaking Barriers, Creating Collaboration for Local Power Generation”

Breakout sessions and leaders:

Regional Collaboration for Local Generation

“Overcoming barriers to increasing local power generation”

John Gavan, board member Delta Montrose Electric Association

Rural Solarization

“How to bring more solar capacity to rural communities”

Kristen O’Brien and Ed Marston with Solar Energy International

Rivers & People Need Water- Gunnison River & Water Management in Drying West

“Taking action on water conservation in a drying and thirsty West”

Sarah Sauter with the Western Slope Conservation Center

Moving Colorado to Renewables and Minimizing Water Use

“Moving past policy and political impediments to facilitate the rapid transition of our energy and resource economies”

Robert Castellino with Climate Colorado and the founder of the Colorado Climate Summit


# # #

So, What is ‘Advocacy Campaigning’?

Cesar Chavez – “We don’t organize to educate. We educate to organize.”

Sweet Victory!

Think you need a stop sign on the corner? Want to stop a fracking waste pit? Homeowners’ board giving you trouble? Then you might be considering how to develop an ‘advocacy campaign.’  Boiled down, an advocacy campaign is a methodical and strategic approach to reach a specific, time-sensitive goal.


What is advocacy campaigning?

Developing and running an effort to force a specific change: advocacy campaigning starts with a general assumption that the target decision makers need both the rationale and the encouragement (sometime relentless pressure) to take the right action.


The rationale usually comes from a good idea, a needed policy change, or in opposition to a bad one, but it needs to be communicated effectively and delivered well; and there usually needs to be some level of popular or stakeholder support.


It’s all about the campaign goal

The primary reference point for any advocacy campaign is the win—the destination the effort is working to reach.


The campaign itself may be part of a larger movement for change or for a new direction.  But for any particular campaign the reference must remain the particular result being sought.


One way to understand the campaign goal is to ask the ‘decision, decider, and deadline’ question.  In an advocacy campaign each of those should have a very specific answer.


What about strategies and tactics?

Tactics serve the strategic objective, which can be described as an optimal position to obtain the campaign goal.  Strategies describe how the campaign intends to reach certain objectives.  Tactics are the necessary steps taken to get to each strategic objective, or more often to reach certain outcomes in a progression toward it.


The main needs of a particular campaign—for instance a good (or winning) proposal, solid communication, and good organizing—often represent three primary strategies many advocacy campaigns deploy: policy, communications, and field strategies.  Tactics usually are grouped under these.


As an example, the field strategy objective might be: “Achieve the necessary grassroots support and stakeholder buy-in necessary to compel (swing) decision-maker John to decide correctly on decision-date.”


A stronger strategic objective would include (or be connected with) a specific set of stakeholders and publics you need to engage, such as “Achieve the necessary grassroots support from county voters and stakeholder buy-in from Main St businesses and community opinion leaders necessary to compel (swing) decision-maker John decide correctly on the decision-date.”  Field tactics would then work to achieve outcomes that work toward the particulars of that objective.


What make for good tactics?

Good tactics originate in a strong strategic vision—of the overall context and situation, and of the campaign goal.  Tactics also rely on clear direction (‘on the ground’), which shows up as situational awareness or ‘tactical vision,’ and manifests as effective action when properly applied.


Martin Luther King Jr.– “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”


In general, good tactics start where those that need organized are at, both in attitude and location, working them toward an anticipated outcome.  Good tactics usually also find their initial root in a point of agreement or commonality, and build from that; to solidify and shape that commonality or begin shifting it in a specific direction.  Finally good tactics require good timing, and that means being attuned to larger currents and dynamics in play—in the campaign and in the larger arena and world, and being steadfast in pursuit of the campaign goal.


X Marks the Spot: Campaign Plan as your ‘Treasure Map’ 

Developing an advocacy campaign includes beginning with a good, clear-eyed assessment of the current situation and effort at hand.  That information can be used to develop a basic campaign map, or plan, that helps to guide the campaign.  Unlike a road map, it does not try to depict every turn and juncture along the way. Rather it shows a destination (goal) and such things as major challenges or opportunities along the way that will need to be overcome or utilized.


The campaign plan itself is built on a timeline that leads up to the deadline, or decision date.  Other key events or benchmark dates are also noted, and then tactics are filled in moving forward toward each key date and the deadline, usually grouped by the strategic objective they work toward.


 Gandhi – “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”


Frodo had the Fellowship (and Gandalf)

Every adventure needs a team of comrades.  And putting together the right campaign plan, and the right campaign team, and being able to guide that smoothly and effectively toward its goal, takes skill, experience and a certain art.  Understanding a little of the theory, and the ‘how to’ of developing an advocacy campaign before setting forth can provide a great head start on your quest to a campaign win.


And it may not be a magic ring, but having a wizard involved never hurts either.


Mountain West Strategies provides the strategic consultation to help with your campaign as well as workshops to teach some theory, skills, and provide hands-on training that can help any campaign toward its goal.



Advocacy Campaign Workshops

This post is developed from background materials for a recently introduced series of workshops to teach theory, skills and techniques behind successful advocacy campaigns.


Current workshops being offered include:


For more information on workshops, contact Mountain West Strategies at 970-510-0678.



The Art of Advocacy: Finding Your Way with Strategies and Tactics

 “To see things in the seed, that is genius.”   Lao Tzu


In its simplest sense an advocacy campaign is a methodical, strategic effort to convince a decision-maker to make a specific decision by a certain deadline.  It involves a campaign goal (as described above), strategic objectives, development of tactics and anticipated outcomes, campaign protocols, policies, systems and metrics.



In teaching some of the tricks and tools of the trade that I have developed and picked up over twenty years of organizing work, I often start by taking a step back, before delving into those somewhat technical details, with a philosophical approach that, for me, frames how I set out to develop and implement successful advocacy campaigns.


Campaigns need to be developed, planned, staffed and managed well, and doing all that requires both skill and art.  So I start my workshops with talking a bit about the art.  For this I turn to the wisdom of thinkers like Sun Tzu, whose seminal The Art of War remains on the reading list of many strategists and the more mystical Lao Tzu, legendary author of the Tao Te Ching.


Some of the art is an innate ability—different people, thankfully, are adept at different things—but a lot is also gained from experience and practice.  And I find these two ancient thinkers from China very relevant for providing both a simple and profound understanding about how campaigns function, and how the successful advocate operates within them.


“When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.”  Sun Tzu


Campaigns are dynamic things, not static (although they do need solid structure and efficient systems).  Campaigns of any duration include an ebb and flow, a cyclical not linear force (even though they are imposed on a set timeline).  Campaigns are implemented by successful, adept advocates. And, finally, campaigns require balance between strategic vision and tactical action, with those informing the other, finding success in the proper function between those polarities. 1999.139.2_IMLS_PS3


It would not end well for a hawk that tried to roll a boulder by striking it, and a rabbit would simply move out of the way of a flood rolling boulders down an arroyo.  Rather in both the hawk’s strike and the torrential waters, it is the application of proper tactics informed by correct strategic objectives, that allow the rabbit to be gotten and the boulder to be moved.


“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”   Sun Tzu



The material presented in the Art of Advocacy goes into some detail with four ‘virtues’ or qualities of the functional campaign, five ‘attitudes’ or level of engagement of the successful advocate, and four progressions the functional campaign moves through between strategic vision and effective action (and back again).


The Art of Advocacy workshop fits into a larger system of campaign development that teaches how to craft plans covering the goal, strategies and objectives, and includes a ‘hands on’ training in the development of effective tactics.


This framework provides the basis for that later work.  For instance, the four virtues of a functional campaign are a key part of the system, with each serving a specific role within the campaign.


Four Virtues               Campaign role

Perspective                  ‘Strategic vision’

Awareness                   ‘Tactical vision’

Adaptability               ‘Tactical action’

Steadfastness             ‘Strategic action’

>> Proper Function


The takeaway is that advocacy campaigns are dynamic with a cyclical and not only linear force at play, and which require a balance between strategic vision and tactical action.


The final, and probably most important, lesson is that successful campaigns are implemented by successful advocates.  As the basis for advocacy campaigning, the wisdom of both Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu coach us to look within: to be an effective advocate for change one must strive to be that change, as another great strategist also reminded more recently.


“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Gandhi



Of course campaigns are designed to win.  Within the bounds of ethics and appropriateness the model that works is the one to pursue.  But since there is more to winning than just putting together a good plan,  an understanding of the ‘art’ of advocacy is also an important step to crafting and running winning strategies and tactics.


That is why in starting my trainings I like to start long ago and far away, to make the ‘Art of Advocacy’ relevant today by borrowing from philosophers in feudal China.  Success starts with certain qualities and attitudes that can be cultivated, in both the campaign and in ourselves as advocates.


Crafting campaign strategies and tactics can seem like a technical and dry process, but its genesis for ultimate success starts by ‘seeing things in the seed’ and a basic understanding–about the work we are doing and about ourselves–that moves our efforts toward effectiveness and success.



Advocacy Campaign Workshops

This post is developed from background materials for a recently introduced series of workshops to teach theory, skills and techniques behind successful advocacy campaigns.


Current workshops being offered include:


For more information on workshops, contact Mountain West Strategies at 970-510-0678.

Overview to Campaign Development

 So you’re ready for some change?

What To Do Now?


If you have decided to develop an advocacy campaign, you might be wondering what happens next.  The tangible result of campaign development is the campaign plan, its product is the functional campaign itself, and its purpose is to reach the campaign goal.  The campaign plan is thus made up of sets of tactics arrayed on a timeline, directed by strategic objectives, advancing toward the campaign goal, coordinated and carried out by someone.


However, before the campaign plan can be crafted, the overall context it operates in must first be understood.  This is done with an initial assessment of the situation. Then, once the plan is crafted a campaign needs a structure—an entity of some sort that provides the strategic guidance and accountability—to see it through to its goal.


tac·tics  (tăk′tĭks) n. 

1.The study of the most effective ways of securing objectives set by strategy,

as in deploying and directing troops, ships, and aircraft against an enemy.

2.A procedure or set of maneuvers engaged in to achieve an end, an aim, or a goal.


The ‘ABCs’ of Campaign Development

A good campaign plan allows individual tactical timelines to be adjusted without jeopardizing the overall campaign goal.  It adapts to shifting situations but keeps everything on task, moving toward the strategic objective, which has the goal as its primary reference point.  From the campaign plan, team or individual work plans can then be derived.


“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”   Sun Tzu


One straightforward approach to campaign development takes it in three stages: assessment, building the plan, and how to coordinate the campaign-as-an-entity.



Before a campaign can be developed, an assessment is needed to determine some fundamentals: What exactly is the win? Who is the decision-maker?  What is the decision date? And lots of particulars: Who most influences the decider?  What does the campaign have and need?  Who is the opposition? Etc.


Different tools can help answer these questions.  Many people are familiar with the ‘SWOT’ analysis that analyzes a situation according to ‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.’   The Advocacy Campaign workshops use a modified approach, one that considers four sets of forces or values that are in a dynamic relationship with their counterparts: Opportunities/Challenges, Calendar/Commitment, Allies/Antagonists, and Resources/Deficits.  Rather than being only oppositional as suggested by the traditional SWOT analysis, these relate to their counterparts in a more complex manner.  CalendarContext


For instance ‘Calendar/Commitment’ looks at the dynamic relationship between the anticipated campaign calendar, external calendars and events, and the level of public engagement–as attention, interest, and enthusiasm.  A dynamic relationship between the campaign calendar and the level of commitment it can generate can then be considered, which better allows tactics to be adapted and scheduled accordingly.


All this information can then be plotted in a strategic manner on an Asset Map and a Power Map, which show what a campaign has and has immediate access to as well as how it is connected, via relationships, to the decision-maker.  The Overview to Campaign Development workshop covers all these particulars about campaign assessment in detail.



The next stage is to build the campaign plan itself.  The information from the assessment is used to develop the ‘planks’ of the campaign plan—the campaign’s overall goal, its strategic objectives, and (initial) tactical outcomes.


The campaign goal is determined by answering the ‘What, Who and When’ question:  What is the preferred decision, who is the decision-maker, and when is the decision-date?


Determining what the main sets of tactics will be is one way to decide which strategies to use.  Many campaigns deploy ‘policy/legislative,’ ‘field,’ and ‘communication,’ strategies as broad-stroke ways of grouping their primary groups of tactics.


The objective for each strategy is then determined by considering where it needs to arrive at to do its part in compelling the decision-maker to make the correct decision by the decision-date.  The particulars of the plan are then derived from these sets of tactics, by anticipated outcomes grouped by date and strategy.



At a minimum a plan needs to depict what the campaign goal is—including the decision, the decision-maker, and the decision-date; what the strategic objectives are; and, when major tactical outcomes are anticipated.


The campaign plan or the campaign structure itself (or both) also need to clearly specify who is responsible for achieving the major tactical outcomes as well as for individual task areas.



Campaign development starts with a good assessment of the situation and develops carefully considered tactics that are always informed by the clear direction of good strategic objectives. These, in turn, position the campaign to win the goal.  Campaign development finishes with setting up the campaign structure itself and its leadership, protocols and other systems that will allow it to implement the plan and win.


Following the system outlined in the Art of Advocacy the structure serves the campaign’s strategic roles primarily —both vision and action, exhibiting the qualities of perspective (strategic vision) and steadfastness (strategic action).  Some of the main responsibilities of the campaign-as-entity are strategic thinking, coalition coordination, and accountability.


The Overview to Campaign Development workshop teaches the tools for campaign assessment and the steps for building the campaign plan, the first two stages in the process above.  It is the second in a series that begins with ‘The Art of Advocacy.’  The final workshop is a hands on practicum developing a campaign plan by assessing the situation, building the planks of the campaign, and crafting a plan.


In addition to these workshops, and general grassroots consulting, Mountain West Strategies offers consultation to help set up a campaign structure.  Each campaign-as-entity is best suited to being individually tailored to the many particulars of campaign and participants.


Advocacy Campaign Workshops

This post is developed from background materials for a recently introduced series of workshops to teach theory, skills and techniques behind successful advocacy campaigns.


Current workshops being offered include:


For more information on workshops, contact Mountain West Strategies at 970-510-0678.

The Plight of Backwater County

Crafting the Winning Campaign

Sometimes we have to show up.  For whatever reasons, there we are facing the prospects of developing an advocacy campaign.  Where do we start?



In the three-part Advocacy Campaign workshop series, the Art of Advocacy starts with some ideas on what makes a successful campaign. Overview to Campaign Development  follows with basics of campaign development–including teaching tools for assessing the situation and the steps to building a campaign plan.


In the final workshop of the series, Crafting the Winning Campaign, participants get a hands on opportunity to go through the steps of developing a campaign, and learn along with other participants how the different tools and techniques work together,


And it all starts in a sleepy little backwater where not much ever happens.

Until it does:


The Plight of Backwater County


Backwater County is no longer the backwater it was.  Home to exurbanite refugees of varied demographics, Backwater struggles to balance haphazard rural development with changing land use demands and a growing population, currently about 35,000.  Recently BILGE, Inc. (a consortium of Big Oil) has proposed two fracking waste pits outside the sole municipality (Eddyville), adjacent to a popular public use area and the Backwater Creek Wildlife Refuge.


The three member county commission will vote in ten weeks to allow or deny this facility…



So begins the tale of Backwater County and the yet unresolved issue of waste water pits.


You have been asked to help lead a team of community members that wants to develop a campaign to stop the waste pits.  You soon learn more about the situation, and begin to consider how you might proceed.


Who are the commissioners?  Are they up for re-election?  Are there public meetings?  What media is in the county?  Are there other groups involved?



Participants in the Crafting the Winning Campaign workshop, the third in the Advocacy Campaign series, use the tools they have learned to assess the situation and build a campaign plan with goal, strategies and tactics. Using dynamic analysis that considers such things as opportunities and challenges, resources and deficits, and allies and antagonists, and strategic assessments like asset and power maps, workshop participants determine how to proceed to win the issue at hand, then develop the plan to do it.  All these tools, and the process to follow, are explained in detail in the Overview to Campaign Development workshop.


In a mixture of exercises in the whole group and in small teams, participants practice campaign assessment and then the fundamentals of building a campaign plan. Eventually with a campaign plan in hand, together the participants gauge whether the campaigns are a success or not.


Until then it seems the Plight of Backwater County remains unresolved.




Advocacy Campaign Workshops

This post is developed from background materials for a recently introduced series of workshops to teach theory, skills and techniques behind successful advocacy campaigns.


Current workshops being offered include:


For more information on workshops, contact Mountain West Strategies at 970-510-0678.

North Fork Valley Protests BLM Oil and Gas Lease Sale



Local Government, Hundreds of Citizens, Wineries, Farmers, Businesses, Sportsmen Organizations, and Conservation Groups all file protests over North Fork oil and gas lease sale


PAONIA-Today a diverse and substantial number of protests were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management Colorado State Office over the North Fork Valley oil and gas lease sale, scheduled for February 14, 2013.


Protests argue that the BLM must withdraw the North Fork parcels from this sale; that the agency has failed in its legal obligation to ensure it has updated management in place that adequately considers current economies, resources, and uses of the public lands at stake in this federal agency decision.


The Paonia Town Council approved a protest last week:


“This community warrants having all the impacts noted and addressed before such leasing is proposed.  The Town is requesting that every aforementioned parcel proposed for lease in the North Fork valley be removed from the sale. … The Town is not against mineral extraction as an industry, it does however oppose these parcels for the above-stated reasons.  …The North Fork valley is truly a special place for many people.  Our citizens deserve legislation that ‘protects their land, water, air, and economic viabilities of their-livelihood and assets.”


The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners also sent a ‘letter of objection’ that requests BLM:


“…not proceed with the proposed February 14, 2013 Oil and Gas Lease Sale unless and until further review of the impacts associated with the parcels be evaluated, reconsidered, and mitigated.”


The North Fork’s BLM lands are intermixed with the private, productive agricultural lands of the valley, where families live, and that will be directly impacted by traffic and development on rural roads and adjacent lands.  The community nature of these public lands, uses never fully considered by the BLM, has driven this small community to action.  Protests were submitted or joined by hundreds of local residents, with one community protest gathering over 600 signers.


“It’s a simple and sensible position: Helen Hankins, the BLM state director, should not push through new leases that would permit new industrial use under a plan from 25 years ago,” said Pete Kolbenschlag with Mountain West Strategies, a Paonia-based strategic consulting firm, who helped gather support on the community protest. “The bottom line is the BLM has not done the work required, the North Fork deserves a plan that protects the resources in place here today.”


The plan the BLM is relying on to permit the sale of these highly utilized public lands was finalized in 1989.  The majority of the analysis and studies that plan relied upon were completed in the early and mid-1980s.   Protests and objections contend this is a backward approach and that the law requires that the BLM update its analysis and consider new information first, before it commits the lands to highly impactful industrial development.


Agricultural groups like the Valley Organic Growers Association, the state’s largest such organization; Slow Food Western Slope; and, the West Elk Winery Association—made up of twelve area wineries; all filed protests.  As did several local irrigators such as the Terror Ditch and Reservoir Company.


“[The] vineyards and wineries surrounding Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Crawford have been steadfastly crafting a sustainable, locally-based industry relying on premium quality wine crafted from premium quality grapes, diverse, nearby recreational opportunities set amid sweeping views, and a pastoral, bucolic local ambience,” the Winery Association protest reads.  “The proposed lease sale threatens our industry at its very roots, as several of the Protested Parcels are located within the boundaries … while others are located close by.”


The North Fork is Colorado’s only rural winegrowing region as recognized by the federal government.  The area also includes the highest concentration of organic farms and orchards in the state and is gaining a reputation as “An American Provenance” for its compact towns with surrounding small family-scale farms and wineries.


These wineries, farms and other agricultural businesses directly impacted by this sale are an important part of the local economy.  With its high-quality rural ambience, small-scale family farms, cottage industries, local markets, and farm-to-table restaurants the North Fork is a growing agritourism destination. Area businesses fear that all this could be significantly impacted by the agency’s leasing of these lands that would allow oil and gas drilling under a nearly 30-year-old analysis.   The North Fork Valley Tourism and Lodging Association (made up of 26 local tourism, recreation and guest-oriented businesses) filed protest, arguing that:


“The most recent Environmental Assessment acknowledges that the NFV has changed dramatically since 1989, when the BLM approved the out-of-date UFO RMP.   Accordingly the BLM must now comply with its multiple-use mandate, which requires “periodic adjustments in use to conform with changing needs and conditions”, and reevaluate whether oil and gas activity is appropriate for the North Fork Valley.”


Both visitors and residents are attracted to the North Fork’s rural culture.  And over a dozen local realtors also filed a protest.  Both sets of protests—tourism businesses and the realtors—highlight factors that have changed since the 1980s.  The protests assert that the BLM must first consider these changed circumstances and this new information in a land use plan but that it has not.  Therefore these lease parcels must be withdrawn.


Of course it is not only the impacts to the human environment that is drawing concern.  Oil and gas development on the fragile soils and among the water sources and riparian areas of the valley could cause significant environment harm should spills or storms (neither infrequent occurrences) happen at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Impacts to wildlife, including elk and deer, and endangered and sensitive species, have the potential to be significant.  Air quality is another significant issue the BLM all but admits it has failed to properly consider, before it decides to lease the lands anyways.


Trout Unlimited filed a protest due to important populations of Greenback and Colorado River Cutthroat Trout populations in streams that could be affected by development under this decades-old plan.  Both the Colorado Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation filed a protest over concerns about impacts to wildlife habitat and migration routes.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the BLM’s own sister agency—even recommended consultation prior to leasing, which the BLM state office and director have ignored.


Conservation groups also filed protests raising the above issues, including the Hotchkiss-based Citizens for a Healthy Community and Western Environmental Law Center and another from Colorado groups led by The Conservation Center (of Delta County) and High Country Citizens Alliance (in Gunnison County).


“The North Fork Valley of Colorado is a unique and valuable area, that deserves unique attention,” said Sarah Sauter with The Conservation Center, a local community group active in the valley since 1977.   “The 1989 plan simply does not consider what exists here today: our water sources, our homes, our businesses and farms.  We deserve better and we intend to work with the BLM to get it.”


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