Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Deep Creek Deserves Wild And Scenic Status (Vail Daily)

                       Deep Creek Area Being Considered For Wild And Scenic Status

Yesterday, I went to a public meeting sponsored by the BLM, US Forest Service and American Rivers putting forth a proposal to list the Deep Creek as a Wild and Scenic Area.  Deep Creek in western Eagle County, and the idea of giving it some level of added protection has been bandied about for at least twenty years. When I first heard about this latest proposal last spring, I was slightly skeptical despite being generally in favor of protecting our wild western landscapes.  

  The reason for my skepticism was twofold. The first is that the there's currently no existential threat looming over Deep Creek. Though the potential for mining operations or water resource development exists hypothetically, no one is talking about doing it, at least not at the moment.  So what exactly are we protecting it from? The second reservation I had was what might happen to the area by listing it as "Wild and Scenic", in terms of drawing attention to an area that sees very little human traffic as it is. It is extremely rough country, with no real trail running through it. Its as close to impassable as you'll find in Colorado, and so is already self-limiting by its very nature.  Would making it "Wild and Scenic" have the unintended consequence of making it less wild and scenic, by encouraging people to visit the area more?

  This summer I made several trips up into the Deep Creek area to better know it.  I've tried to access it in past, but been rebuffed by high spring flows.  This time I went in the summer with a fly rod in hand, often using the creek itself as a means of egress.  It is an extremely wild and scenic place,  a point which everyone agrees on. Deep Creek is a pretty amazing area, dropping from subalpine fields of wildflowers at over ten thousand feet, to high desert at six thousand in just under fifteen miles. There are some feisty, colorful brown trout in there, a sizable arch, wildflowers aplenty, and one of Colorado's best views from its easily accessible overlook.  It is also home to one of the most extensive cave systems in the world. Its also already under federal control, with Forest Service land on top and BLM below. No private property is affected. But is a new federal designation right for Deep Creek, and is the time to do that now?

  I'm a fishing guide who lives beside the Colorado River, and Deep Creek is practically in my backyard. At the meeting yesterday, many of my neighbors who ranch in the area showed up, and most had levels of skepticism that were much higher than mine.  They had concerns that such a designation might impact the ranching operations they've conducted in the area not for just years, but for generations.   They know this area better than anyone else, and their worries and opinions need to be seriously considered.   

 As for me, after chewing this proposal over in my mind all summer I've come to opinion that I am in favor of the new status for Deep Creek, with the caveat that the interests and concerns of the local ranching community are addressed to their satisfaction.  I'd also like to see the BLM and US Forest Service leave the area just as it is to their utmost ability.  That means, no bridge over the creek near the bottom switchback, no trail improvements, no fancy visitor center and a minimal amount of new signage.  In other words, if the purpose of the new designation is to preserve the area just as it is, than they need to leave it just as it is, to the greatest extent possible.  And now is the time to get it done, before some potential threat to the area becomes manifest. Keeping out a mining operation with its associated issues, and leaving as much water in the creek as possible to support the truly unique riparian ecosystem is a noble goal. Keeping out good ranchers who've spent their lives working and living in that landscape is not. But in the end, having such a wild and scenic place our backyard is worth protecting. 

  So let's move forward with recognizing and protecting the Deep Creek area, and then try our best to just leave it the hell alone!  

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