A two-decade effort to permanently protect Colorado’s Browns Canyon now appears within reach as the Obama administration is poised to designate the 22,000-acre area on the Arkansas River as a national monument.
One of the last choreographed steps in the national monument dance took place over the weekend, with senior public lands managers from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management attending a packed public meeting in Salida, Colorado. About 500 people jammed the SteamPlant Theater, most of them expressing strong support for a monument designation that would permanently protect one of the West’s premier white water rafting and trout fishing areas, and a place where outdoor recreation is a powerful economic driver in the regional economy of south-central Colorado.
Bill Dvorak, the head of a local citizens group that has advocated for permanent protection of the area, told the Denver Post he was confident the finish line is in sight. “I think we’re about 90 percent there,” said Dvorak. “I’m hoping that we’ve finally pushed this thing through. It certainly deserves to have that protection after all these years and all the support we’ve generated. I’m pretty dang confident right now.”
Saturday’s public meeting was hosted by Colorado’s two Democratic senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, the latest in a long line of state politicians from both parties who have pushed for either wilderness or monument protection for the spectacular river canyon that is renowned for its recreational opportunities, stunning vistas, and wildlife habitat. U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell and deputy Bureau of Land Management director Steve Ellis, attended the meeting.
“When there are special landscapes where there is a need, a commitment, a desire from the communities to protect these areas and be able to preserve the status quo for the future, monument designation is one of the tools that has been used throughout the history of this country,” Tidwell said.
With Republicans set to take full control of Congress next month, and prospects for significant wilderness legislation expected to decline when that happens, executive action to create a Browns Canyon National Monument has appeared to be the best path to protecting the area.
Browns Canyon would be the 14th national monument created by Obama under the powers given to U.S. presidents by the Antiquities Act of 1906.