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Colorado’s U.S. Senators express support for added protection of Dolores River, with safeguards for existing uses

By Jason Blevins3:50 AM MDT on Jul 4, 2024

From: The Colorado Sun

Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are on board with increased protections around the Dolores River but only if existing mining, hunting, grazing and water rights are protected.

The senators on Tuesday released a statement indicating they support additional federal protection around the Dolores River — where advocates have proposed a nearly 400,000-acre national monument. 

Following meetings with locals in Mesa and Montrose counties earlier this year where the two senators declined to indicate either support or opposition for the monument proposal, the two senators on Tuesday issued a shared, simple statement that promises to protect existing uses around the region. It’s the first formal signal from the senators indicating their position on the national monument proposal. 

“We are committed to continuing to work with local leaders, public land users, affected counties, and Tribes to determine the best path,” the statement reads. “No matter the tool we use to permanently protect the Dolores, we will follow these principles.”

Bennet and Hickenlooper said the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service should continue to manage the land in the northern Dolores River Basin. They would not support charging fees to access the proposed monument. They said motorized access would remain open on the 160-mile Rimrocker Trail between Montrose and Moab. They support mountain biking and new trails for bikes. They oppose the creation of federal water rights along the river. 

Both senators have hosted meetings that included fiery opposition and equally eager advocacy around the national monument proposal. Both senators have long supported increased land protection in Colorado. Elected leaders in Mesa and Montrose counties have formally opposed the monument suggestion. 

Bennet last month hosted a 500-person meeting in a new school in Nucla where he felt the flames of opposition to the monument idea. Hickenlooper hosted a similarly impassioned meeting in April. 

“Those were dog-and-pony shows. The same old song and dance,” said Sean Pond, a Nucla business owner who has galvanized opposition to increased federal protections around the Dolores River. “If you look at the senators’ statement, it’s almost like it was written by (monument supporters) themselves. They say they might close roads and access and it’s not going to affect anybody. That is simply not true.”

For Pond, the sticking point is the promise to keep motorized access open on the Rimrocker Trail. 

“That is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of roads in the monument boundary,” he said. 

Closing motorized access on those roads could hurt ranchers who need trucks to haul water and maintain fencing around remote cattle meadows, Pond said. Uranium miners could struggle to keep their claims valid if motorized access is cut in a region that once hosted a vibrant uranium mining industry, Pond said. 

People whose lives and livelihoods would be directly impacted by the national monument “should have a little bit of a louder voice” in the monument discussion, Pond said, sharing a growing sentiment in rural Colorado where residents feel urban interests — like wolves and water — are overwhelming small communities. 

Monument supporters say a national monument designation would permanently protect one of the state’s most ecologically diverse and threatened river corridors. A monument would help create a long-term management plan to contain and mitigate the impact of increased visitor traffic to the region as well. 

Supporters said they appreciated the statement from the senators — as well as their trips to the Western Slope.

“We also wholeheartedly agree with the principles that they outlined as part of the vision for the landscape,” said Rica Fulton, the advocacy and stewardship director for the Dolores River Boating Advocates. “We hope to see the senators expeditiously continue meeting with diverse stakeholders and facilitate working with Coloradans to craft a long-term plan for this incredibly special landscape.”

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