For Immediate Release:March 8, 2005
Theresa Sauer 303-239-3861
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Baca National Wildlife Refuge to Benefit from Proposed Land Exchange
The BLM, State Land Board, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners recently signed an agreement to initiate a federal land exchange to consolidate land ownership at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Baca National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed land exchange between the BLM and State Land Board will implement the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of November 2000.
“The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act was designed to protect and preserve the tallest sand dunes in North America and one of the most fragile and complex dune ecosystems in the world,” said Ron Wenker, BLM Colorado state director.
Approximately 50,000 acres of State-owned lands within the boundaries of the newly-designated Park and Refuge are being considered for exchange for approximately 23,000 acres of land administered by the BLM in Conejos, Fremont, and Saguache Counties. An additional 16,700 acres of BLM lands could be included in the exchange if needed to equalize values. As a result of the exchange, the State lands would be transferred to the National Park Service for management as part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for management as part of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.
“The state-owned lands represent an important component of the diverse landscape surrounding and adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes,” said Steve Martin, National Parks Service Regional Director “This acquisition would ensure permanent protection of the geologic features, associated watershed, and cultural resources that make up the Great Sand Dunes ecosystem.” Regional Director for the Mountain/Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ralph Morgenweck said, “The lands owned by the State of Colorado within the boundaries of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge are critically important to the restoration of migratory bird habitat and protection of water and cultural resources in the San Luis Valley. I sincerely appreciate the effort going in to this land exchange.”
The natural resources present on both the state and federal lands will be inventoried and evaluated as part of the land exchange process. The partners will conduct an environmental analysis and other studies to assess the impacts of the exchange on threatened or endangered plant and animal species, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and other natural resources. The partners will also consult with Native American interests and other stakeholders throughout the process. Existing land uses, including land use authorizations, grazing, and public recreation and hunting on the lands proposed for exchange would be accommodated to the maximum extent possible.
The federal and state partners will be asking for public input on the exchange both through written correspondence and at proposed public meetings this spring in surrounding communities.
“The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Baca National Wildlife Refuge has widespread public support throughout the state, and we anticipate that this proposed exchange will also be well-received,” said Wenker.