Travel the Browns Canyon timeline to national monument status
The U.S. Forest Service completes a 5-year Roadless Area Review and Evaluation process (RARE I), which found that all the USFS lands within Browns Canyon and surrounding areas, tallying tens of thousands of acres, are suitable to be designated as wilderness.
The Bureau of Land Management recommends 11,000 acres in Browns Canyon area as a “primitive” area.
Because the BLM was not included in the 1964 Wilderness Act, Congress moves to protect wilderness-quality lands managed by the BLM by passing the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The bill requires the agency to inventory its lands and identify areas with certain characteristics as wilderness study areas, sections of land that Congress is supposed to either designate as wilderness or open for use as non-wilderness areas.
In August, Browns Canyon is included with other lands in a proposed withdrawal to protect primitive values, with FLPMA requiring Browns to be reviewed as an area for wilderness designation.
On Sept. 7, BLM officially closes the portion of the Turret Trail on BLM land to motorized use.
The U.S. Forest Service completes a Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE II) process, with public involvement, to identify roadless and other area lands and determine their use for wilderness and other management. USFS lands in Browns Canyon, with additional land to the north, are identified as 23,500 acres of roadless land.
The BLM identifies 117 areas in Colorado with wilderness potential. Browns Canyon is one of seven named by the Royal Gorge Field Office. BLM inventory identified all 6,614 acres inventoried in Browns as possessing wilderness characteristics.
The BLM seeks public comment on a proposal to recommend the Browns Canyon area as a Wilderness Study Area. The vast majority of the public comments received are in favor of this recommendation.
The Pike and San Isabel National Forest, after public comment, issues a new Land and Resources Management Plan. Most of the USFS land within Browns Canyon is prescribed to be managed as big game winter range.
A House bill introduced by Colorado Republican Reps. Wayne Allard and Dan Schaefer seeks to name hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado as wilderness, including Browns Canyon. The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1991 never makes it out of committee.
The BLM officially designates Browns Canyon as a wilderness study area in January.
The BLM Royal Gorge Field office issues its Resource Management Plan, completed with public involvement. It recognizes much of the land in the monument and WSA as an “area of critical environmental concern” for its significant wildlife habitat and scenic values.
Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette submits a proposal known as the Colorado Wilderness Act.
The first iteration of DeGette’s Wilderness Act has 25 co-sponsors, but fails to make it to the floor for a vote.
The Browns Canyon portion of DeGette’s bill is 21,809 acres.
DeGette is still working to pass the Colorado Wilderness Act 16 years later. The most recent version of the bill includes a 19,825-acre wilderness area in Browns.
DeGette hosts a public meeting in July with Chaffee County Commissioners Frank McMurry, Glenn Everett and Jim Thompson regarding the Browns Canyon portion of her Colorado Wilderness Act.
The commissioners unanimously vote in favor to support the 6,614 acres in Browns Canyon as wilderness.
A Roadless Area Conservation Rule (the Roadless Rule) is issued, which identifies inventoried roadless area lands.
USFS lands in the monument area (labeled Aspen Ridge), as well as additional land to the north, are identified as a contiguous 24,908 acre roadless parcel.
The BLM and USFS complete a multi-year public process by issuing the Fourmile Travel Management Plan.
The decision designates a network of quiet use hiking and horseback riding trails in the Browns WSA.
Local Browns supporters and statewide environmental groups compromise and do not appeal the Fourmile Travel Management Plan decision when DeGette’s northern boundary is moved south to the current NM boundary (USFS trail 1434).
The move withdraws 2,463 acres from her Browns wilderness proposal when the boundary is officially acknowledged in 2003 for the Fourmile management plan.
Friends of Browns Canyon officially forms to obtain local community and bipartisan support for getting formal wilderness protection for the area.
DeGette proposes to designate 34,762 acres of land as a Browns Canyon Wilderness. However, significant adjustments are made to this original proposal in response to concerns by USFS, the BLM, river outfitters, motorized recreationists, Chaffee County Commissioners, private land owners, Colorado state lands and the Upper Ark Water Conservancy District.
These compromises reduced the size of the proposed wilderness area to 20,050 acres, which will act as the template for future congressional wilderness bills.
In January, Rep. Joel Hefley hosts a public meeting at the Chaffee County courthouse regarding Browns Canyon. Chaffee County commissioners Joe DeLuca, Jim Thompson and Tim Glenn unanimously support the revised Browns wilderness proposal.
In August, Hefley holds a public meeting at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds to gauge local support for the wilderness area.
All speakers voice support for the proposal.
Three months later, Hefley and six other members of the Colorado congressional delegation introduce the Browns Canyon Wilderness Act, House Resources bill 4235.
Sen. Wayne Allard introduces companion legislation in the Senate.
Testimony is given by Friends of Browns Canyon members to the U.S. House Natural Resource committee in July. Per Hefley, “The hearing went well and was passed favorably along to the full House committee.”
However, Hefly says due to friction and “bad blood” between Tom Delay and Hefley due to an ethics violation by Delay, Richard Pombo (chair of the Natural Resource committee) holds up the bill from a vote on the house floor.
U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar hosts a meeting in Salida in October with more than 50 individuals in attendance, all of whom support a Browns bill.
However, the Browns Canyon effort is dealt another setback when Hefley decides to not seek re-election and retire.
By October, the National Rifle Association publicly tries to prevent the U.S. Senate from moving the vote to the floor of the Senate.
Immediately after winning the November election, Lamborn said he will not support Hefley’s initiative to designate Browns Canyon as a wilderness area.
Chaffee County Commissioner Jerry Mallett in December negotiates an agreement to “cherry-stem” the Turret Trail with the NRA, however the 109th Congress shuts down and goes home mid-December.
In April, Lamborn hosts a public meeting in Salida with the proponents of the wilderness bill in the morning and opponents in the afternoon.
Again, all three Chaffee County commissioners, Osborne, Mallett and Glenn support a Browns Canyon wilderness, continuing unanimous commissioner support for some form of a Browns wilderness since 2000.
Salazar hosts a public meeting in Buena Vista in August to hear comment on the Browns Canyon proposal.
No legislation is introduced as Sen. Salazar is appointed Secretary of the Interior by the President Barack Obama administration.
DeGette introduces another omnibus wilderness bill. With a Democratic president, house and senate, DeGette has her best chance yet, to advance a Colorado Wilderness bill.
Additionally, Udall creates a “draft discussion” bill for Browns, tentatively called the “Joel Hefley Browns Canyon Wilderness Act.” The bill never gets past the discussion stage.
DeGette and Lamborn host a public meeting September in Cañon City. Support is quite strong for Browns Canyon and other BLM wilderness study areas in Colorado’s 5th district, and specifically Fremont County.
All three Republican Fremont County Commissioners — Ed Norden, Larry Lasha and Mike Stiehl — vote in support of DeGette’s bill. DeGette’s bill never makes it to the U.S. house for a vote.
More than 100 local businesses and organizations submit letters supporting a Browns Canyon Wilderness Area.
Friends of Browns Canyon, in conjunction with Volunteer Outdoor Colorado, begins implementing the Catkin Gulch/Turret trail hiking system in the Browns WSA, which takes 4 years to complete.
Now Secretary of the Interior, Salazar submits a short list of ‘crown jewels’ areas to Congress, suggesting that these areas deserve congressional action to protect them as wilderness. Browns Canyon is one of 18 areas nationwide included on the list.
In February, Udall outlines three potential options to designate the Browns Canyon area a national monument, encompassing 20,000 to 22,000 acres.
For the first time, BLM land to the west of the Arkansas is proposed for protection, with proposed wilderness still located east of the Arkansas River, with the Browns WSA at the heart of the proposals.
Udall hosts a public meeting in April, at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs to announce his plan.
Udall announces in January plans to make drafted Browns Canyon legislation available to the public. The plan is unveiled April 13 at a public meeting seeking citizen input at Noah’s Ark Rafting in Nathrop.
Udall and Lamborn listen to statements from many members of the public, the majority of whom support the designation.
On Dec. 10, Udall introduces legislation to establish Browns Canyon National Monument, Senate Bill 1794.
Under the bill, the national monument would span 22,000 acres, with the majority of the acreage east of the Arkansas River and south of Nathrop. The bill would also designate 10,500 acres of wilderness.
Nine days later, Udall calls on the BLM to challenge mining claims in the Arkansas River near his proposed Browns Canyon National Monument.
Udall’s Browns Canyon bill is considered July 23 at a U.S. Senate Parks Subcommittee hearing, after which the subcommittee endorses the bill and forwards it to the full committee, allowing it to move further in the legislative process.
On Nov. 25, after losing his re-election bid to Republican Cory Gardner, Udall asks President Obama to consider using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate Browns Canyon a national monument.
Bennet joins the call for Obama to take executive action.
Udall, Bennet and federal land management officials appear Dec. 6 during a public meeting at the Salida SteamPlant, with an estimated 700 people in attendance. The vast majority of attendees show support for the designation.
On Feb. 18, White House officials announce President Obama will use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to declare Browns Canyon National Monument.
The next day Obama signs the proclamation, making the designation official, Browns Canyon is a national monument.
Browns Canyon is officially dedicated as a national monument July 18 at a ceremony in Buena Vista. In attendance are key members of Friends of Browns Canyon, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, BLM director Neil Kornze, U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, local politicians and about 700 people.
This Arkansas Valley Publications timeline is based in part on a legislative timeline that originally appeared in The Chaffee County Times Feb. 14, 2013 and again Feb. 26, 2015. It also includes material from The Mountain Mail editions dated March 17 and 18, 2015, as well as back issues dating to 1979 and from information on the USFS and BLM websites.