WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama has designated Colorado’s Browns Canyon a National Monument, preserving some 21,000 acres of desert wilderness for outdoor recreation and scientific study.
“The protection of the Browns Canyon area will preserve its prehistoric and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values remain for the benefit of all Americans. The area also provides world class river rafting and outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and horseback riding,” the president said, in Friday’s proclamation.
Detractors called it a big government land grab and said grazing and water rights were not addressed.
The designation makes federal land within Browns Canyon, in central Colorado’s Arkansas River valley, off limits to sale and leasing “other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of the monument,” the proclamation states.
In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “Today’s designation follows more than a decade of work by the local community to protect this spectacular area. Browns Canyon draws families and adventure-seekers from near and far, driving a strong outdoor economy. The president’s action will ensure that this special place remains central to Colorado’s economy and Western way of life for generations to come.”
“Browns Canyon is a unique area with a rich cultural and recreational legacy. These lands have provided a home for people for 10,000 years, and the cultural and historical resources protected by this monument honor the area’s Native Peoples. It is also a working landscape where ranchers have worked for generations,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “I am proud that we are conserving and managing landscapes that support important resources and support local economies, especially rural mountain communities.”
There are 18 known prehistoric archeological sites in the Browns Canyon area, including five that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The sites include ancient campsites, chipped stone processing sites, rock shelter sites and a possible ceramic pottery kiln, the proclamation states.
“European exploration of the Browns Canyon region began when the Spanish explorer Juan de Ulibarri visited in 1706. A century later, Zebulon Pike explored the Browns Canyon area after his failed attempt to summit what is now known as Pike’s Peak,” the proclamation states. Industries in the area included fur trapping and gold and silver mining in the 1800s, and remnants remain, including small abandoned mine sites, ghost towns and cabin foundations, it notes. The area was an important stage coach corridor during the gold and silver booms of the middle and later parts of the 19th century, before rail travel rose to prominence in the 1880s, according to the proclamation.
The area is home to pinyon-juniper and mountain mahogany woodlands, pine and fir species, aspen, and a variety of both rare and well-known species of grass and wildflowers, it notes.
“Some of Colorado’s most emblematic animal species call Browns Canyon home,” it states. Bighorn sheep, bobcats, red and gray foxes, prairie falcons, golden eagles, great horned owls and wild turkeys are among the native species in the area.
The National Monument designation does not change the access rights of Native American tribes that use the area, does not alter existing water rights, does not affect the operation of the existing railway corridor through the area and does not change the jurisdiction of the State of Colorado, including with regard to fish and wildlife management, it states.
It limits motorized vehicles to designated roads and trails, except for emergency and authorized administrative purposes and limits where new roads and trails can be built.
The monument will be managed by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
In a statement released by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Tim Canterbury, Chair of the Public Lands Council, said, “We stand by the fact that a presidential declaration is not in the best interest of the agricultural community; and we sincerely hope that the president and his administration have heard our concerns and will ensure that the rule-making process addresses the concerns of landowners and ranchers, allowing ranches that have been in operation for generations to continue.”
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