As an orchardist and business-owner in the North Fork Valley I understand the value of being involved early in public lands planning. That is one reason I support the Bureau of Land Management’s update to its outdated planning rules: The Planning 2.0 initiative.
I was disappointed, but not altogether surprised, to see that some western Colorado counties are opposing these updates. This effort is being coordinated by a “property rights” group out of Texas. Opposition is being driven by the special interests that have for too long controlled how our shared public lands are managed.
But as a property owner, orchardist, and businessman, I disagree with the agenda being pushed by this group. Their efforts may benefit big landowners and oil and gas leaseholders but it won’t benefit small farms, local water users, and other community stakeholders.
In the North Fork Valley, we have come to depend on being able to participate early and meaningfully in public lands planning. But that didn’t come about easily. Under the old rules, we have had to go out of our way, have had to take time off work and to leave our farms and fields to make sure we were heard.
The Planning 2.0 update will revise the rules to make it easier for local stakeholders and communities to provide information earlier in the process. Planning 2.0 will look at resources and land use across the landscape, not only on the BLM acres themselves. This is important to me and my livelihood. My irrigation water heads on U.S. Forest Service lands, it is conveyed in ditches that run across BLM lands, and then it waters my orchards and private property. It is only sensible that BLM consider this vital resource from source to destination and not only the portion that crosses its jurisdiction. Air quality, recreational opportunities, scenic views, wildlife habitat — all these resources exist at the landscape level. They are not only reliant on individual BLM parcels, and planning must approach their proper management holistically. Planning 2.0 would work to do just that. And Planning 2.0 would also require the BLM to use the best available science in its decision-making. Often BLM planning fails to do that under the current, outdated rules. This is because information may have changed during the 10 years it sometimes takes to currently craft a resource management plan.
It is unfortunate that several counties in the region are opposing the Planning 2.0 update. I think these counties are either misinformed or intentionally siding with powerful interests. In either case, they are not acting for what is best for the Western Slope. We may not have the deep pockets of the trade associations and Garfield County, but we depend on the BLM lands for our water supplies and other resources. Blocking this needed update to the BLM planning process won’t benefit my business. It won’t benefit the recreationists that visit the public lands and stop by in our wineries and markets. And it wouldn’t benefit the wildlife that depend upon and move across these public lands, drawing hunters from around the world in pursuit of trophy game.
The BLM Planning 2.0 rules are good for local stakeholders, good for Colorado communities, and most importantly good for the heath and sustainability of our public lands. The community resources that depend on proper lands management deserve planning that accounts for resources and communities today — not that lock in biases from the past.
That is why as a farmer, businessman, and engaged community member I have joined with over three dozen other Colorado farms, wineries, and other agricultural-related business to send a letter of support to the BLM. These updated planning rules deserve to be finalized and ought to be supported by stakeholders and the public. If elected officials won’t step up and work with BLM to support these rules, then the least they can do is step out of the way.
Jeff Schwartz is owner Big B’s Fabulous Juices & Hard Ciders and Delicious Orchards Farm Market and sits on the board of directors with the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance.