Browns Canyon: “‘Bill makes sure it stays that way.’”

 The following article was published in the The (Salida, Colo.) Mountain Mail: 4/10/13.  The original version can be found here.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall introduced legislation that would designate 22,000 acres of Browns Canyon between Salida and Buena Vista as a national monument and (in part) wilderness area, which would ensure the canyon remains just like it is now for future generations of hunters and anglers and other outdoorsmen and women.

Some 102,000 acres in the area were first identified as suitable for wilderness under the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE 1) in the 1970s by the Salida District of the Pike/San Isabel National Forest.  In addition, the original Browns Canyon proposal of 34,762 acres was whittled down to just over 20,000 acres due to compromises made for motorized recreation and other users.

Part of the original proposal was surrendered to off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and became part of the 100,000 acre Fourmile Motorized Area, allowing for motorcycle and OHV use in the area.  Since 1992 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recommended wilderness designation for what remains of wild areas in Browns Canyon.

In 2005 Joel Hefley (R-Colorado Springs) introduced legislation to designate 20,000 acres of the region as wilderness. The entire bi-partisan Colorado Congressional delegation swiftly jumped on board to support Hefley’s legislation. Despite the overwhelming support (that continues to this day), the legislation did not make it to a vote.

Bill Sustrich, 85, a Salida resident and NRA Life-Benefactor member, said: “This is something that has to happen, one way or another.  I’ve been advocating for protection of this beautiful backcountry habitat since the early 70’s.  I’ve watched the proposed area for protection go from 100,000 acres to just over 20,000. There has been plenty of compromise over the years and now is the time to ensure that the incredible fish and game resources on this wild landscape are secured.”

Because 80 percent of the formerly wild lands in the Browns Canyon region have already been sacrificed to motorized recreationists—degrading big game habitat across a wide swath of public lands—the currently proposed Browns Canyon national monument and wilderness is an island of prime big game habitat surrounded by a sea of motorized sacrifice zones.

Now I don’t have a problem with responsible multiple-use of our federal lands.  But why must a small percentage of public lands users (motorized users represent less than 10% in most surveys) get to run roughshod over the majority of public lands in the region.  Why must we hunters and other muscle-powered outdoorsmen and women take it in the shorts?  Why must hunters and anglers and wildlife continually get pushed to the back of the line?

As hunters and anglers know from boots-on-the-ground experience, more roads and OHV trails mean elk migrations are hindered, mule deer populations suffer, and trout spawning habitat is negatively impacted. That means less hunting and fishing opportunity.  Because it’s surrounded by lands open to motorized use, the game moving into Browns Canyon are there because it’s still unroaded and secure.  Senator Udall’s proposed national monument/wilderness bill will make sure it stays that way.

About Caitlin Thompson