It was disappointing but not unexpected when San Juan County heard this week that Bureau of Land Management boundaries are changing.
BLM State Office Director Ruth Welch met with county officials Wednesday in Silverton, and she confirmed that plans are on track to move San Juan County, which is 87 percent public lands, to the Rocky Mountain District, formerly called the Front Range District, by Oct. 2.
The realignment, which will move the county from the Southwest District to the Rocky Mountain District, and from the Tres Rios to the Gunnison field office, will evenly distribute workload and resources, the agency said.
The new arrangement will also bring the Alpine Loop – a series of peaks popular among recreationists – under the jurisdiction of one field office.
While the agency has said the move was an internal matter, San Juan County officials and community members have insisted they have a voice in the decision. Also, they added that redistricting when Superfund is on its way will throw an unneeded complication into the process.
Wednesday’s meeting allowed community members and officials to address the state office and ask questions about the realignment. However, the BLM has made clear that the decision to redistrict was made.
“The state director made it clear her mind is made up, and she’s not going to change it, which made people wonder why we were talking if there was no room for negotiation,” County Commissioner Pete McKay said. “We’re pulling away from our sister county and our long-term partners.”
McKay said the redistricting disrupts San Juan County’s long-term relationships with La Plata, Ouray and San Miguel counties. The four stood together, with the BLM, in recent years to oppose the transfer of public lands to state or private entities.
San Juan County also will refer to a new BLM Resource Advisory Council, a group of stakeholders that discusses issues related to the use and management of BLM lands.
“Our new RAC will be headquartered in Cañon City,” McKay said. “How are we going to spend two days coming and going, and a day there for the meeting?”
District 59 state Rep. J. Paul Brown supported San Juan County at the meeting, later posting on Facebook that the realignment is nonsensical because it will “take years for the Canyon City and Gunnison staff to get up to speed” on issues unique to the southwest.
Steve Hall, state office spokesman, said the county will report to the Gunnison field office manager, Elijah Waters.
“This change will not affect staff or impact how we manage public lands,” Hall said.
“We’re not changing resources available to manage public lands in that area.”