by Andy Senti and Jay Thompson, BLM Colorado State Office,
Dave Gilbert, BLM Royal Gorge Field Office
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers approximately 8.4 million acres of public lands in Colorado, primarily in the western third of the state. Within BLM’s management jurisdiction, there are over 4,000 miles of perennial and intermittent streams and their associated riparian areas of varying sizes. Intermingled with these public lands are many miles of privately owned streams.
The land ownership pattern within these public land areas varies from comparatively solid blocks of public lands intermixed with only a few non-federal ownerships, to small isolated parcels of public land distant from other public lands. BLM has used land exchanges, land purchases, and occasionally land donations to acquire private lands. These lands are added to BLM’s land base in the hope that federal management will provide long-term multiple resource benefits.
Land exchanges or purchases are complex transactions. Each year, BLM Colorado has limited resources to devote to land exchanges and limited funding from Land and Water Fund appropriations for land purchases. In a given year, BLM may complete only a half-dozen exchanges, and a like number of purchases. Early settlers under the Homestead Act and other land laws took the best lands available for agriculture. If there were perennial streams for a source of livestock, irrigation, or domestic water, these lands were taken in preference to otherwise arid, low productivity lands. It is often these lands with perennial streams and riparian vegetation that are offered to BLM for exchange or purchase.
In preparation of the Resource Management Plans that guide BLM’s administration of the public lands, BLM identifies resource values that are of particular significance to its present or future resource management goals. Resource values, such as riparian areas, public access, and paleontological or archeological resources guide the BLM when opportunities to consider land exchange or purchase from non-federal landowners come along. The same Resource Management Plans also identify public lands where continued federal management is no longer essential. So when there is an opportunity to exchange lands, there is an identified pool of available public lands the non-federal land owner can evaluate. Non-federal lands reconveyed to the United States for BLM jurisdiction in land exchanges, direct purchase, or donation, merge into the BLM resource management units that surround them and are managed, long-term, usually for multiple resources, with particular attention to the special attributes that prompted the acquisition.
Public lands that are administered by BLM are available for multiple uses. Livestock grazing, mining, oil and gas drilling, and recreation are some of the many activities that may occur on public lands. Many of these activities can affect the condition of riparian areas. Federal laws and policies provide a level of protection for riparian areas that is not required for private lands. Transferring ownership of land from private to public ownership affords numerous protections for riparian and wetland areas included in the transfer. BLM has policies and regulations designed to protect riparian areas that are in good condition as well as to restore riparian areas that have become degraded. BLM has assessed the condition of riparian areas on lands it manages, and strives to maintain or restore its riparian areas so they provide multiple benefits associated with properly functioning riparian systems. Although overall riparian areas under BLM management have improved, there is still further work to be accomplished.
Over the past 15 years, BLM has focused on protecting and restoring riparian and wetland areas under its management. This emphasis on protection and restoration has grown as BLM realized that many of its land use practices were impacting fragile riparian systems. However, only recently has BLM actively sought riparian and fisheries resources through its land acquisition program. Transferring riparian areas and fisheries streams into public ownership provides long-term protection and recreational opportunities for all Americans. Riparian resources have become a key consideration in land exchanges and can serve as a driving force behind the acquisition of certain lands.
BLM has added acquired much land through its realty program, including many acres of valuable riparian habitat. If you know of a parcel that might be of interest to the BLM, contact your nearest BLM office. BLM has 11 field offices scattered across Colorado, you can find additional information by contacting the BLM Colorado State Office in Denver or by visiting the Colorado BLM website at coso.co.blm.gov.
Aerial view of McIntire Springs, centerpiece of a 538-acre parcel acquired by BLM in the San Luis Valley in 1994. BLM acquired an additional 1034-acre parcel adjacent to McIntire Springs in 2001.
Recovering wet meadow adjacent to 31-Mile Creek on lands acquired by BLM in1992.