12 May North Fork Representatives Travel to DC to Thank BLM, Elected Officials
May 12, 2014 –
Chamber of Commerce, winery assoc. and local rancher push agency to adopt community-based plan to protect North Fork’s public lands.
Delegates from Colorado’s North Fork Valley are returning home after a successful trip to the nation’s capital. Unlike in previous years when valley residents traveled to Washington D.C. to urge that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) defer proposed oil and gas leasing and prioritize updating its badly outdated land use plan for public lands in the North Fork, this year delegates brought a different message to Obama administration officials and Members of the Colorado congressional delegation.
“We wanted to check back in with the national BLM leadership, thank the agency for deferring the ill-advised lease sale, and to discuss what the community is recommending in the locally developed North Fork Alternative Plan,” said Jim Ramey Executive Director with Citizens for a Healthy Community, the North Fork based group that organized and led the visit. “Like with previous trips, our group agreed that our meetings were very productive.”
The North Fork Alternative Plan would prioritize protections for what the community most values, including existing and emerging economies, water resources, wildlife lands, and the scenic rural landscape. These shared values are important to residents, and have helped the North Fork diversify and develop its economy.
“Preserving the integrity of our natural and rural landscape is a common value our community shares—regardless of political leanings, occupations, or time in the valley,” said Alexis Halbert, president of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce. “Newcomers and old timers alike want to protect the heritage of our important rural and agricultural lands, and the current jobs and recreation they provide, and that’s why the Chamber is joining hundreds of others in the valley to put its support behind the North Fork plan.”
The group met with Steve Ellis—the Deputy Director of the BLM, officials with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and staff with both Colorado Senators and Representative Tipton.
“Finding balance between protecting this place and energy development is critically important to the North Fork’s burgeoning wine industry,” said Ty Gillespie owner of Azura Cellars and representing the West Elks Winery Association. “We have to get this right, and the North Fork plan is all about striking that balance.”
In December 2011 the BLM Colorado State Office issued a notice requesting comment on plans to lease for oil and gas drilling and fracking tens of thousands of acres of public lands that border the valley’s three towns, and that surround its farms, wineries, and residents. After an overwhelming response, those leases were deferred as the BLM works to update its nearly 30-year-old Resource Management Plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office, which includes public lands in the North Fork Valley.
The North Fork Alternative Plan was developed in response to this leasing proposal, through an 18-month stakeholder-driven process, to help BLM shape proper management for the area. In autumn 2013, the BLM agreed to consider the North Fork Alternative as one of its possible options for a new land use plan. In Washington, delegates stressed that they will continue to work with the BLM to ensure the community-based plan is actually adopted into a final revised land use plan.
“We were grateful to be well-received, but we also made sure to stress we were done yet. We will keep pushing the BLM to not only consider, but to adopt, the North Fork Alternative Plan, and to encourage our Senators to help secure enduring protection for these lands,” said Landon Deane who raises natural grass-fed beef on the Eagle Butte Ranch near Paonia.
“This has been a tremendous success story,” Deane said. “To see a small community come together, develop and submit its own vision for how public lands and resources should be managed, then have the federal government agree to consider that is huge. We deeply appreciate the BLM and our elected leaders listening to our concerns and to take them seriously, but now we need the agency to get the job done and to put a plan in place that truly protects this fertile and beautiful valley.”
Colorado’s North Fork Valley, which includes the small towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford, has been one of the state’s premier fruit-growing areas for over 120 years. Today, the area includes the state’s highest concentration of organic farms, a dozen wineries, and hops farms that provide their product to craft brewers around the region as well as major Colorado brewer Coors. Recently Colorado Life magazine named the area “Colorado’s Farm-to-Table Capital.” The North Fork is also the state’s only rural area designated a Colorado Creative District, due the many artists and artisans that have located here, and the connection their arts and crafts have with the local farming culture.
For information on the North Fork Alternative Plan, visit http://bit.ly/NFAlt.