The original opinion piece was posted by the Durango Herald Editorial Board. To read the original piece click here.

Locals and visitors arriving to Durango-La Plata County Airport are met with an image of Phil’s World, the iconic trail system that winds through piñons and junipers, east of Cortez and 45 minutes west of Durango. Phil’s World lives up to its world-class mountain biking status and is one of many stunning landscapes that make the Southwest the extraordinary place that it is.

But Phil’s World is primarily on Bureau of Land Management land and a drilling lease was recently proposed there.

Also, Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument are vulnerable. Drilling is allowed nearby, which could impact their values.

It’s difficult to get our heads around oil and gas development in areas of outstanding archaeological significance, but unless BLM prioritizes the “sustained yield” – or conservation – part of its mission, this risk is real.

So we’re calling on the Biden administration and Interior Secretary Debra Haaland to provide direction to BLM in Colorado on using conservation tools to protect the delicate, otherworldly places here in our backyard.

Some startling figures. In Colorado, 91% of lands managed by BLM are open to oil and gas development. Also in our state, of 8.3 million acres of BLM lands, only 16% are protected. In BLM’s Southwest Tres-Rios Field Office, little is managed for protection of wildlands and wildlife – only about 13%. Five Wilderness Study Areas total 50,000 acres and three Areas of Critical Environmental Concern add up to 14,000 acres; yet, there is no permanently designated BLM wilderness in the Southwest.

This concerns us.

Now is the time for BLM to put its thumb on the scale and administratively protect – and balance – more of what it manages.

Don’t get us wrong. The BLM is fantastic at managing the multiple-use part of its mission – sharing land with the energy industry and ranchers who graze cattle and those of us keen on recreating in gorgeous places. But the conservation part of BLM’s mission needs serious attention.

We’re not laying blame. In 1976, the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act changed BLM’s mission to retain public lands and manage them for “multiple uses and sustained yield through land-use planning.” Since then, the agency has had its hands full. Congress has slowly starved the BLM. And with Grand Junction as BLM’s Western headquarters, we expect to be heard. Loudly. Clearly.

With the impact of climate change and the biodiversity crises, the continual threat of wildfires and drought, it makes sense that BLM lift up sustained yield and manage for conservation, with the same vigor and breadth it has shown for multiple uses.

Big game. Recreation. The 360-degree beauty of remote lands. It’s why we live here. And it’s what 80% of Rocky Mountain West voters want, shown in support of the national goal of conserving 30% of land and waters in the U.S. by 2030.

Wild places like the Dolores River Corridor need permanent protection. Photo: Bob Wick.

The Dolores River Corridor is a fine example of what’s needed. About 30 years ago, the Wilderness Study Area of Slick Rock Canyon, a 30-mile, deeply cut meandering stretch of the Dolores River, was recommended for official wilderness protection. The WSA designation allowed local communities to continue working with lawmakers on longer term protection.

At the time, the BLM wrote that Slick Rock Canyon was recommended because of its “outstanding natural scenery, opportunities for solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation and for its ecological diversity.” The BLM called the “scenic geological grandeur” of Slick Rock Canyon “one of the most spectacular desert river canyons in the United States.”

This is the kind of scenario where BLM headquarters can provide more direction for field managers. How to dust off, sharpen and shine their conservation tools, and safeguard what’s important.

We’re all about sustaining our quality of life. We need the BLM’s bold action to do it, while listening to people in the Southwest.

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