Due to the controversial nature of the proposed land exchange between the Wexner family and the BLM, let me explain why I completely support the exchange.
The wildlife gains: The bighorn sheep herd on the side of Mount Sopris would be much better protected by having the strip of BLM land placed under a conservation easement on private land, with oil and gas drilling prohibited, than by leaving them on public land with a public trail running through the middle of their range, and the possibility of there being gas drilling in the future. Division of Parks and Wildlife officials specifically don’t want a public trail going through that part of the bighorn range.
The deer and elk who winter on the Sutey Ranch would have their range permanently protected by placing the land under BLM control with a special management plan. If the Sutey Ranch stays as private land, there would be a lot of pressure to develop homes on it, and the deer and elk would lose yet another piece of their critical winter habitat.
The recreationalists gain: Mountain bikers who are now trespassing on Wexner land to access trails on the Crown would be entirely on BLM land, without the possibility of any conflicts with a private land owner. The Sutey Ranch is adjacent to the very popular Red Hill Recreational Management Area, and all or portions of the ranch will undoubtedly be open to public use during the time the deer and elk are not wintering there.
Hikers will not lose any access to Mount Sopris. The 1200 acre strip of BLM that would be exchanged is bordered on three sides by private land. People who hike on the land now must have permission from private landowners or trespass to access the property as a way to get to Mount Sopris. The only way to legally access the land from public land is to go onto Mount Sopris and then double back downhill. The strip itself is not an easy hike by any means, with steep and difficult up and downhill climbs, and a convoluted shape.
Pitkin County gains: Though there will be a net loss of some hundreds of acres of public land in Pitkin County, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of acres of private land which will be added to the tax rolls of Pitkin County. Over the past years Pitkin County has made a net gain of about 11 square miles of public land, mainly in the Independence townsite above Aspen and Coal Basin above Redstone. This land was a gain of public land for Pitkin County, but represents a loss of an equal value of public land elsewhere in the country. Pitkin County is presenting itself as being greedy in this case by not wanting to lose any public lands.
The land gains: Oil and gas drilling will be prohibited on both the Sutey Ranch and the BLM land being given up to the Wexners. The newly private land will have conservation easements placed on it which prevent it from ever being developed. There is the possibility that water rights from the Sutey Ranch can be used to maintain higher streamflows in the lower end of Cattle Creek.
All other entities in the Roaring Fork Valley besides the Pitkin County commissioners, including the town of Carbondale, Garfield County, the Division of Parks and Wildlife, the Crystal River Caucus, and Aspen Valley Land Trust have supported the Wexner land exchange in the past. Pitkin County would gain some respect from these entities by changing its mind about the issue. Commissioner Jack Hatfield changed his mind after learning more about the benefits of the exchange. Let’s hope the rest of the Pitkin County commissioners see the light too.
Pitkin County commissioner candidate