CO: Natural Areas, Commission Makeup Approved

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission
unanimously approved the addition of three new State Natural Areas
to the Colorado Natural Areas Program during its monthly meeting on
Thursday Dec. 8 in Fort Collins.

Since 1977, the Colorado Natural Areas Program has worked with
interested landowners and volunteers to conserve the ecosystems,
species, geology and fossils that represent resources which are
“uniquely Colorado.” Coordinator Brian Kurzel explained that the
program enrolls only properties whose landowners support the
protection of the resources on their properties. “It’s a way of
acknowledging that the existing landowners are doing things very
well, to recognize them for their work and to assist them in any
way we can,” Kurzel said.

Two of the areas are located in southwest and are already owned
and managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The third is located on
the Eastern Plains.

The three properties are:

• The 2,529-acre Miramonte Natural Area is located within the
Dan Noble State Wildlife Area at Miramonte Reservoir in San Miguel
County. Renowned for its excellent recreational opportunities and
remarkably diverse rare plant habitats, this area also serves as an
indicator of healthy sagebrush communities and provides some of the
best habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse in the county.

• North of Durango in La Plata County, 125 acres of the Haviland
Lake State Wildlife Area have become the new Haviland Lake Natural
Area. Plant communities common to the southern Rockies meet with
Four Corners communities in interesting and unique assemblage of
species. Riparian shrub lands and robust wetland vegetation at the
site provide habitat for sensitive wildlife species such as the
osprey and the Northern leopard frog.

• In eastern Colorado north of Idalia, the 2,240-acre Arikaree
River Natural Area is part of the largest remaining naturally
functioning Great Plains river system in the state. Several native
and uncommon species of amphibians, fish and reptiles reside in a
mature riparian corridor that includes high-quality native prairie
and streamside plant communities. The area, owned by the Colorado
Land Board, is a meeting ground for many bird species from the
eastern and western United States and is one of the best birding
areas in Colorado.

During the afternoon session, commissioners directed Colorado
Parks and Wildlife staff to continue to explore the possibility of
mineral development at St. Vrain State Park near Longmont. The
agency is considering whether drilling restrictions and
environmental safeguards necessary to protect St. Vrain State Park
users and the park’s natural resources can be imposed if mineral
development were to be approved within park boundaries.

Built on a series of former gravel mines, St. Vrain State Park
is bisected by the St. Vrain River and is surrounded by residential
areas, industrial development, Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway
119 in the middle of the heavily-drilled Wattenberg Field.

As the mineral rights owner, Colorado Parks and Wildlife can
negotiate directly with a prospective operator to secure the
highest level of protections for park users, wildlife, water
quality and other natural resources. If drilling is approved on St.
Vrain State Park, it would be limited to two 5-acre sites on the
property’s margins and occur only during autumn, when local bird
populations are least affected and visitation is at its lowest. If
operators accessed the minerals under St. Vrain from a neighboring
property, the agency would have much less leverage to negotiate
environmental protections and royalty rates.

High Plains Region manager Heather Dugan said her staff has been
working closely with mineral leasing experts in the State Land
Board on a draft surface use agreement and other aspects of a
potential lease arrangement.

Commissioner Bob Streeter said that while the revenue from
development would help to support numerous state parks, the
commission’s first priority was to ensure that the park’s wildlife
habitat, water bodies and recreational resources would be
protected.

“I think it’s important folks understand we are looking at a
unique situation here,” said Commissioner Bob Streeter. “We’re not
making a broad recommendation about mineral development in state
parks. We’re moving forward to make sure we maintain control of the
process.”

The 14-member commission also unanimously adopted a recommendation
to cut its membership to 11 while maintaining representation from
traditional user groups and expanding the flexibility to attract
commissioners with a special expertise in relevant areas like
economics or marketing.

The proposal specifies three at-large members, two agricultural
landowners or producers, two sportsmen or sportswomen, two with
experience in outdoor recreation, one county commissioner, one
member of a nonprofit, non-consumptive conservation group. No more
than six members may be from the same political party. The
recommendation will be presented as part of the merger bill to the
legislature next session.

In other business, Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff updated the
commission on the status of two ongoing bear research projects,
including a multi-year effort that launched this year in the
Durango area.

Mammals Research Program Leader Chad Bishop said researchers
captured 70 different bears during the summer season and collared
26 females. The study calls for a total of 50 females to be
collared.

Bishop explained the project had four main objectives. The
study’s first objective is to evaluate possible management
strategies to reduce human-bear conflict, especially by reducing
the availability of human food sources like garbage in a portion of
Durango.

The study will also seek to quantify the effect of urban food
sources on bear populations. While garbage, fruit trees and other
vegetation provide ample feeding opportunities for bears in town
and may serve to boost bear populations, bears in town are also
more likely to be killed as a result of coming into conflict with
people. This information will help biologists build better
population models and may help answer the question of whether
communities like Durango serve as a population source or sink for
the larger regional bear population.

During the study, hunting impacts will be evaluated to determine
the effectiveness of hunter harvest as a tool to manage
urban-exurban bear populations. Finally, Colorado Parks and
Wildlife will conduct a series of mail-in surveys to gauge
residents’ awareness of the project and their attitude toward
bears.

A second study headed by researcher Mat Alldredge is exploring
new genetic and stable isotope techniques to determine what
additional information can be gained about individual bears from
hair left in hair snares. The study will explore whether bear hair
could help identify the animal’s age or the type of food it’s been
eating. This tool could help biologists better understand a bear
population’s age class structure and identify whether bears had
been obtaining food from urban sources or wild land sources.

Finally, Commissioner Chris Castilian was appointed as the
liaison to the State Trails Committee by Chairman Tim Glenn. The
Recreational Trails Committee coordinates trail development
projects with local governments and assists the Commission with the
administration of a grant program that funds recreational various
trail projects across the state. Commissioners also unanimously
reaffirmed a former Parks Board policy establishing the roles and
responsibilities of the Recreational Trails Committee and adopt
several new changes to the committee’s grant review process. The
grant program is a partnership among Colorado Parks and Wildlife,
Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado Lottery, the Federal Highway
Administration’s Recreational Trails Program and the National Park
Service’s Land and Water Conservation Program Fund.

The meeting was held at the Hilton Fort Collins, at 425 West
Prospect Street.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is a 14-member board
appointed by the governor. The Parks and Wildlife Commission sets
regulations and policies for Colorado’s state parks wildlife
programs.

The Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around
the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. The
complete agenda for the December Parks and Wildlife Commission
meeting can be found on the Commission web page at:

http://wildlife.state.co.us/ParksWildlifeCommission/Archives/2011/Pages/December8-92011.aspx.

To learn more about the commission, please visit:
http://wildlife.state.co.us/ParksWildlifeCommission/Pages/Commission.aspx.

 

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