The Southwest Resource Advisory Council Subgroup and Gunnison Basin stakeholder groups concluded public meetings and submitted their suitability recommendations for eligible segments in the Gunnison, Dolores, and San Miguel river basins to the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office. These recommendations, as well as other public comments, will be documented in the WSR Suitability Report and are being considered during formulation of the preferred alternative for the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan.
WSR STUDY PROCESS
Congress authorized the National Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) Act in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Act safeguards the special character of these rivers, while allowing for their appropriate use and development, and encouraging river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in river protection.
The Act requires the BLM to assess river segments under its management as part of its resource management planning process. The study and designation of rivers consists of a multi-step process: eligibility → suitability → congressional action. Only Congress or (under certain circumstances) the Secretary of the Interior may designate a river for inclusion in the WSR system. The UFO currently does not manage any WSR-designated segments.
The first step in the WSR study process is to determine which river segments meet eligibility criteria. To be eligible, a river segment must be free-flowing and possess one or more outstandingly remarkable values (ORV). ORVs may be scenic, recreational, geological, fish or wildlife related, historic, cultural, botanical, hydrological, or paleontological. ORVs must be of a quality or scarcity that makes them unique, rare, or exemplary within the region. In addition, rivers must have sufficient water quality to support those values. The UFO completed the eligibility phase and documented its findings in the June 2010 Final Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Report for the BLM Uncompahgre Planning Area (5.2 MB).
The UFO has completed the initial evaluation of suitability for eligible river segments, and will document the findings in the Uncompahgre Draft RMP and Environmental Impact Statement. This phase results in a determination of which segments the BLM will recommend to Congress for inclusion in the National WSR System.
Suitability analysis is designed to be highly inclusive, and there were numerous opportunities for public stakeholder involvement throughout the process. Separate meetings were held for the Gunnison and San Miguel-Dolores river basins, during which stakeholders provided additional information and helped to analyze various management prescriptions, as well as the positive or negative impacts of various designations for each segment. The BLM and stakeholders worked together to identify how stream-related values could best be protected and enhanced, and considered potential impacts to other values such as mining activities and water supplies. As part of the process, the BLM considered alternatives to WSR designation for managing water-related values.
The suitability phase addresses several management considerations, including:
Should the river’s free-flowing character, water quality, and ORVs be protected, or are one or more other uses important enough to warrant doing otherwise?
Is protection of identified ORVs within management control?
- Will historical or existing rights be adversely affected?
- Will the river’s free-flowing character, water quality, and ORVs be protected through designation? Is it the best method for protecting the river corridor? The benefits and impacts of WSR designation must be evaluated, and alternative protection methods considered.
Is there a demonstrated commitment to protect the river by any non-federal entities who may be partially responsible for implementing protective management?