Arkansas River Canyon National Monument and Browns Canyon Wilderness proposal open for comment

Posted: Mar 5, 2012

Comment Deadline: Indefinite

General Overview:

Colorado Senator Mark Udall is asking for public comments on a proposal to create the Arkansas River Canyon National Monument and Browns Canyon Wilderness in Colorado's Chaffee County.

The Arkansas River Canyon proposal would protect some of the most popular river rafting spots along the Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista by designating it as a National Monument.

The proposal will create a National Monument designation for 20,000 acres of land on both sides of the Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista, and create a Wilderness designation for Browns Canyon on the east side of the river. The official designation will likely draw more visitors to the area’s world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and support the local tourism economy.

Senator Udall is asking Coloradans in the surrounding communities and a wide range of interest groups what they would like to see from a National Monument and Wilderness proposal. His goal is to develop a legislative plan that is supported by a majority of the communities affected. With his position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Udall has an opportunity to further push these community plans toward fruition.

Background on the Arkansas River and Browns Canyon:

The Arkansas River stretches across America for 1,450 miles from the Continental Divide in Colorado to the mouth of the Mississippi River at the Mississippi-Arkansas state line. The river's initial basin starts in the Arkansas River Valley, where the headwaters derive from the snowpack in the Collegiate Peaks. The river then flows south and eastward through the Colorado Rocky Mountains for almost 150 miles.

Browns Canyon is an area on the Arkansas River which provides fish and wildlife habitat, as well as four-season recreation opportunities. Elevations at Browns Canyon range from 10,000 to 7,300 feet, making it a unique mid-elevation area of public land. The sheer ruggedness, proximity to water and lower elevation provides critical habitat for wildlife including Peregrine falcons, golden eagles, great horned owls, bobcats and other big game species. Browns Canyon is also one of the most popular destinations in the nation for whitewater enthusiasts. 

What is a National Monument?

A National Monument in the United States is a protected area that is similar to a National Park, except that the President of the United States can quickly declare an area to be a National Monument without the approval of Congress. National monuments also receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than National Parks. However, land within and extending beyond National Parks, Monuments, and National Forests can also be part of a Wilderness area, which has an even greater degree of protection than a National Park would alone.

The overriding goal for all National Monuments is the protection of the objects described in the National Monument proclamation. Monument designation can limit or prohibit land uses, such as development or recreational activities. Limitations or prohibitions may be included in the proclamations themselves, administration statements, management plans developed by the agencies to govern monument lands, agency policies, or other sources. Some land use issues may not arise for particular monuments given their distinctive characteristics, for instance, their small size or water-based nature. In general, existing uses of the land that are not precluded by the proclamations and do not conflict with the purposes of the monument may continue.

What effects might a National Monument Designation have on the area?

A National Monument or Wilderness designation can have many environmental and economic effects on an area. First, there are usually direct environmental benefits. Once an area is designated a National Monument, the land is protected by limitations on certain environmentally detrimental activities in order to protect the land for generations of future use.

Second, there are beneficial economic effects these designations can have on an area as well; something Senator Udall has focused on highlighting as a benefit of his proposal. Historically, lands that are protected as National Monuments have become long lasting economic engines for the communities and states in which they are located thanks to increased tourism, recreation, and the relocation of businesses and people.

However, a National Monument or Wilderness designation may have some negative economic effects as well. Restrictions on federal lands in a jurisdiction can be viewed as a threat to economic development. Local communities can be hurt by the loss of jobs and tax revenues that result from prohibiting or restricting future mineral exploration, timber development, or other activities.

In addition, monument designation could result in new constraints on development of existing mineral and energy leases, claims, and permits. Those involved with mining activities may have to adhere to a higher standard of environmental review, and will have a higher cost of mitigation to ensure compatibility with the monument designation. Other concerns include possible restrictions on hunting, fishing, grazing, and using motorized and mechanized vehicles off-road.

Proposals for Designated Areas:

Senator Udall has proposed 3 different options for the area to be designated a National Monument and Wilderness. A description and map of each are provided below:

Proposal 1

Under Proposal 1, both sides of the river would become a National Monument, and the Wilderness boundary would begin several hundred feet on the east side of the river beyond the train tracks.

Proposal 2

Under Proposal 2, both sides of the river would become a National Monument, and the Wilderness boundary would begin several hundred feet on the east side of the river beyond the train tracks. The area designated as a National Monument will remain the same; the difference from Proposal 1 is that less of the area designated as a National Monument will also be designated as Wilderness.

Proposal 3

Under Proposal 3, the area designated as Wilderness would be the same as in Proposal 2, however the National Monument boundaries would be shortened and confined to the east side of the Arkansas River.



Read news on the proposal.
See maps of the proposed wilderness boundaries.

Comment on national monument status for this area, and express a boundary preference.

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