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Needle Rock Instant Study Area


Uncompahgre Field Office



The Squeeze Rapid in Gunnison Gorge

 Gunnison Gorge Wilderness 






In 1964, the United States Congress passed the Wilderness Act in order to preserve a representative sample of public lands containing ecosystems in their natural state for the benefit of future generations.  Until 1976, most lands considered for and designated as wilderness were managed by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

With passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), Congress directed the BLM to inventory, study, and recommend public lands under its jurisdiction for wilderness designation.  In 1991, the BLM issued a Record of Decision that included wilderness recommendations for WSAs throughout the State of Colorado.

Cover: Framework to Evaluate Wilderness Scientific Activity ProposalsA Framework to Evaluate Proposals for Scientific Activities in Wilderness - January 2010 (2.1 MB)

Every year, the four federal agencies charged with wilderness management—the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service—receive hundreds of proposals to conduct scientific studies within wilderness.  There is no consistent and comprehensive framework for evaluating such proposals that accounts for the unique legal requirements of conducting such work inside wilderness, specifically the primary mandate of the 1964 Wilderness Act to “preserve wilderness character.”  This mandate demands that the standard for approving scientific activities be higher inside wilderness than in other areas.

This evaluation framework provides an approach for thinking through and documenting how proposals for scientific activities in wilderness may be evaluated in these wilderness management agencies based on four sequential filters: (1) Initial Review Filter, (2) Quality of Proposal Filter, (3) Legal and Policy Filter, and (4) Impacts and Benefits Filter. By using this framework, managers and scientists alike know up-front how proposals will be evaluated, fostering better communication. This framework aims to reduce conflict, help make defensible decisions, and document how those decisions are made. Our goals in developing this framework are to increase the relevance of science to improving wilderness stewardship and to bring the benefits of wilderness to society while preserving wilderness character.


Gunnison Gorge Wilderness Area

Gunnison Gorge Wilderness

On October 21, 1999, legislation creating the 17,700-acre Gunnison Gorge Wilderness Area was signed into law.  The wilderness area forms the core of the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.  Located nine miles northeast of Montrose, the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness offers a wild and pristine backcountry experience.  A unique double canyon system of black granite and red sandstone layers carved by the Gunnison River, the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness lies just downstream from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Gunnison Gorge is one of only five BLM-administered wilderness areas in Colorado and is managed to preserve and protect its wilderness, scenic, and recreational values.  To learn more about this special area, visit the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area webpage.

Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area

At 66,280 acres, the recently designated (in 2009) Dominguez Canyon Wilderness is the largest BLM roadless area in the state of Colorado.  The area displays an array of ecosystems, ranging from upper Sonoran piñon-juniper desert along the Gunnison River, up to ponderosa pine, aspen and Douglas fir forest. Dominguez consists of two major canyon systems, Big Dominguez and Little Dominguez. The canyons drain the northeastern corner of the Uncompahgre Plateau.  Little Dominguez is the longer of the two at approximately twelve miles in length.  It joins the larger Big Dominguez canyon a little over a mile before their confluence with the Gunnison River. 

The Dominguez Canyon Wilderness possesses outstanding geological features, spectacular scenery, ecological diversity, two cascading mountain streams and opportunities for solitude and primitive unconfined recreation. The terrain is characterized by large mesas dissected by deep red slick-rock canyons and arroyos. The area provides valuable wildlife habitat for desert bighorn sheep, deer, elk, mountain lions, black bear, wild turkeys, and chukars.  For more information, link to the BLM Grand Junction Field Office Dominguez Canyon webpage and/or link to the Dominguez-Escalante NCA & Dominguez Canyon Wilderness brochure.

Dominguez Canyon Wilderness


Tabeguache Area

The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993 designated land surrounding Tabeguache Creek as one of a number of special "Areas" in Colorado.  Under the terms of the Act, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service are directed by Congress to manage the Tabeguache Area to protect its wilderness values.

The Tabeguache Area (17,240 acres) is located on the south slopes of the Uncompahgre Plateau about four miles north of Nucla, Colorado.  The central feature of the Tabeguache Area is the 400-800 foot deep canyon carved by Tabeguache Creek.  Elevations range from 5,600 feet to 8,800 feet, with pinon-juniper woodland the predominant vegetation at lower elevations and ponderosa pine and oakbrush predominant at higher elevations.  Cottonwoods, willows, scattered ponderosa pine, and various shrubs form a riparian zone along Tabeguache Creek.  Recreational opportunities include hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, and wildlife viewing.


The Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976 directed the BLM to inventory its lands for wilderness characteristics and report its findings to the President by October 21, 1991. As a result of that mandate, the BLM identified wilderness study areas (WSA) that met certain wilderness characteristics. These WSAs are managed to preserve their wilderness values until Congress makes a decision to either designate the areas as wilderness or to release the areas for non-wilderness management.

Camel Back WSA

The 10,402-mile Camel Back WSA is located on the north slopes of the Uncompahgre Plateau and is contiguous to the Roubideau Area managed by the U.S. Forest Service. With elevations ranging from 5,400 feet to 7,000 feet, the WSA is characterized by a series of steep canyons and extensive mesas. Mesa tops and canyon slopes are predominantly pinon-juniper woodland and sagebrush, while the canyons are characterized by riparian vegetation consisting of cottonwoods, willows, skunkbush, and in the upper reaches, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Recreational opportunities include hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

(No acreage acres recommended for wilderness; 10,402 acres recommended for non-wilderness).

Adobe Badlands WSA


The Adobe Badlands WSA (10,425 acres) is located approximately three miles northwest of Delta at elevations ranging from 5,200 feet to 8,000 feet. The WSA is characterized by abrupt sloping hills of Mancos Shale dissected by rugged serpentine canyons. Vegetation is relatively sparse and is characterized by low saltbush with some pinon-juniper woodland at the highest elevations. Very little recreational use occurs in the WSA although adjacent adobe badlands are extensively used by off-road vehicles.

(No acreage recommended for wilderness; 10,425 acres recommended for non-wilderness).

Adobe Badlands WSA


FLPMA directed the BLM to identify and study for wilderness characteristics, those areas formally identified as natural or primitive areas prior to November 1, 1975.

Needle Rock Natural Area

Needle Rock ISA

Needle Rock

The 80-acre Needle Rock Instant Study Area is located four miles northeast of Crawford, Colorado.  Needle Rock is a spectacular volcanic formation that abrubtly rises almost 1,000 feet above the Smith Fork River Valley.

(No acreage recommended for wilderness; 80 acres recommended for non-wilderness).


Barbara Sharrow, Field Manager

Phone: (970) 240-5300  |  TDD: (970) 240-5366  |  FAX: (970) 240-5367

2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO  81401

Office Hours: 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

Click on the address above for a map showing the location of

BLM Uncompahgre Field Office administrative headquarters


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