12.30.2013 0

Colorado monument designation would quash mining claims

Colorado_RiverBy Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

A Colorado lawmaker is seeking to put an end to two small mining claims on federal land in his state by having Congress designate the site and surrounding lands as a national monument.

Sen. Mark Udall (D) has introduced legislation that would create a 22,000-acre national monument in Browns Canyon in Chaffee County, Colorado.  To ensure that no mining, or any other new commercial activity, takes place on the site, Udall’s bill would designate 10,500 acres within the boundaries of the monument as wilderness.

Once federal land has been designated as wilderness, it is generally off limits to motorized and mechanical access.  Furthermore, construction of new roads and structures as well as any other “disturbances” are prohibited, as is oil and gas exploration and, of course, mining.

Chaffee County, which calls itself “the heart of the Rockies,” is located in central Colorado.  The land Udall wants to designate as a national monument/wilderness area straddles the Arkansas River.

Under Udall’s bill, the “Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act of 2013,” all the land in what would be called the “Browns Canyon National Monument” would remain under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service.  Because it is federal land, no Colorado agency has any jurisdiction over the area.

“Mining on the river could destroy the pristine water quality and scenery that has made Browns Canyon one of the top rafting and fishing destinations in the country,” Udall said (E&E Daily, Dec. 19).

In 2012, two mining claims, covering about 100 acres, were filed on BLM land in Browns Canyon.  At the time, the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals had temporarily opened up Browns Canyon to mining claims. Udall has called on BLM to challenge the two mining claims, and the agency has the matter under review.

Ball Could be in Obama’s Court

Having large swaths of federal land declared a national monument has become a favorite tool of those determined to shut off development in the resource-rich West.  Oftentimes this is done administratively through a legally dubious interpretation of the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law originally designed to protect Native American artifacts.

Udall’s bill, which currently has no companion measure in the U.S. House, would accomplish the same end legislatively.  If his bill fails to pass Congress, look for the Obama Administration to create the Browns Canyon National Monument administratively.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT. 

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