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The US Forest Service has agreed to protect Lake Sweetwater, Colorado, but big questions remain – the Colorado Sun

White River National Forest has requested funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to permanently protect Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County – an unspoilt oasis surrounded by public land – You have been granted.

But the agency did not specify the amount to be distributed from the $ 8.5 million requested from the fund. This is just one of several recent examples of a slowdown by land managers in the Trump administration who missed crucial deadlines imposed by the Great American Outdoors Act, a sweeping public land bill promoted by President Donald Trump to help support Republican senators facing bids. Tough to be re-elected. the West.

The Forest Service released it on Friday 2021 List of projects for the Land and Water Conservation Fund For state grants under the Forest Heritage and Land Tenure Program. The list was due to be included on November 2 as part of the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act this summer, which promised to cut an estimated $ 20 billion in deferred maintenance of public land and channel $ 900 million annually into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (The fund is backed by oil and gas revenues that energy companies pay for exploration and drilling on federal land and water.)

The The Great American Outdoor Act requires The Forest Service and the Ministry of Interior provide a “detailed description of each project, including estimated expenditures from the Project Fund for the applicable fiscal years” by November 2. Both agencies missed the deadline. The list released by the Forest Service on Friday also lacked the dollar numbers required by the legislation.

As an additional perversion, Home Secretary David Bernhard On Friday he issued an order This added new provisions to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including severe restrictions on the ability of the Land Management Office to add new areas. Bernhard’s Secretarial Order No. 3388 prioritized land acquisitions by the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service over the BLM.

I sent an obscure list he wrote last week to distribute $ 900 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund funds just $ 2.5 million to BLM for the purchase of land, rejecting six projects previously announced by the Trump administration over the summer to encourage the great American. Outdoor act.

“This is consistent with Bernhard’s disdain for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities. “He tried to cancel her funding for three years and he’s now throwing sand in the gears before he left. Really, these guys make it while they go ahead now because they know it doesn’t matter. They’ll go soon.”

Bernhard’s order also requires state governors ‘and local county leaders’ approval for all federal land acquisitions. Garfield County Commissioners have always opposed adding federal lands in their county, but they support protecting Lake Sweetwater.

Commissioner John Martin said: “We will definitely stand behind it.”

White River National Forest has requested $ 8.5 million funding from a Land and Water Conservation Fund to support its acquisition and protection of 488 acres around Sweetwater Lake adjacent to Flat Tops Wilderness in Garfield County.  (Todd Winslow Pierce, for Colorado Sun)
The Forest Service said this week it will use the Land and Water Conservation Fund allocations to protect the 488 acres around Sweetwater Lake adjacent to the flat top wilderness in Garfield County. The agency did not say how much money would be channeled from the fund to the White River National Forest’s $ 8.5 million plan to consolidate the parcel. (Todd Winslow Pierce, for Colorado Sun)

On the last line of the Friday order, Bernhard added a legally dubious clause.

He wrote, “Ending this order will not nullify the implementation of the requirements and responsibilities stipulated here.”

An alternative solution appears

But there’s another option to see the Great American Outdoors Act fully published. Congress could compel Bernhardt and the Forest Service to fund all projects that were part of promotions to the legislation. And lawmakers appear to be preparing to do just that.

US Senate Appropriations Committee in Tuesday released funding recommendations For the benefit of the Ministry of the Interior and the Forest Service with specific projects and dollar amounts. The committee’s plan directs $ 54.1 million to BLM – $ 51.6 million more than the Bernhard Plan – and $ 120 million to Forest Service for land acquisition. The committee’s list of LWCF acquisition projects includes $ 8.5 million for the Forest Service in Lake Sweetwater.

Lake Sweetwater and the surrounding 488 acres have been owned for decades by private developers who have envisioned a luxury retreat, golf course, and even a water bottling facility. White River National Forest’s request for support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund was among the agency’s top 10 priority projects for 2021.

White River National Forest officials directed all calls regarding Sweetwater Lake’s plans to the agency’s national press office, with spokeswoman Babete Anderson saying there was no more information to share.

“The list is the volume of project information that we are sharing at this time, as the numbers are still being completed and we want to do everything we can to ensure the effective use of this money,” she wrote in an email. “We hope to have more information soon.”

In the past fifty years or more, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has awarded more than Awarded $ 272 million For over 1100 projects in Colorado. The list includes national parks such as Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes, state parks including Golden Gate, Roxborough and Castlewood Canyon, and city parks such as Confluence in Denver and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund grant of $ 8.5 million to Sweetwater Lake will be among the largest ever awarded to Colorado. (Congress directed $ 14 million from the fund to protect the nearly 10,000 acres around Red Mountain in the early 2000s.)

The grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund will end a nearly two-year campaign to protect the lake and surrounding acres that spill from Flat Tops Wilderness. This “Save the Lake” The Eagle Valley Land Trust’s effort has seen it raise more than $ 1 million from local governments and donors.

Conservation efforts began with the Conservation Fund, which in 2018 contacted private property owners with a proposal for protection. Colton Creek CapitalThe property was acquired by Greenwood Village investment group when 12-year plan for bottling water From a spring on the property evaporated, it was Listing of “Sweetwater Canyon Club” for $ 9.3 million He agreed to work with the conservation group. The Great Outdoors Colorado loaned money to The Conservation Fund to make the purchase with a plan to transfer ownership to the Forest Service.

“Despite the challenges, this was actually going faster than we expected,” said Justin Spring of The Conservation Fund.

When, or if the land becomes part of the National Forest System, the White River has a long list of priorities for Sweetwater Lake, including improvements to the property’s water supply, upgrades to campground, and boat launches.

The agency is in talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about a joint management plan for Sweetwater Lake that could lead to the property becoming a new state park.

“Sweetwater is examining some important CPW funds and what we want things to look like.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Randy Hampton said: Then there is access to federal lands, just an enormous swath of land. So, yeah, there are many reasons That makes us want to be part of that conversation with the Forest Service. We are now in a situation where we are looking for other parcels. The governor has announced his intention that he wants more state parks. “

Lake Sweetwater, which has 77 acres and more than 400 acres of surrounding areas, could be open to the public if a conservation plan moved the property to the White River National Forest. (Provided by Custody Fund)

You ran Adrian Brink AJ Brink Outfitters In Sweetwater Lake for 36 years. During this period, she worked with six different landowners, all of whom provided her with an annual leasehold for her business hosting hunters, campers, and horseback riding. Each of these owners had big plans, but absolutely nothing happened. The lack of continuity made it difficult for her to invest in her cabins, restaurant, campground and stables.

In the past several months, I have hosted White River Forest officials and engineers who have been planning should a Land and Water Conservation Fund emerge. She was keen to share her list of priorities, including the restaurant’s 1954 roof replacement, better camping access, and possibly even a venue where she could host weddings and events similar to those at Coulter Lake Guest Ranch near Rifle or Trappers Lake Lodge northwest From Meeker, both of which have franchisee permits to operate facilities on federal lands.

“I’ve never had any owner wanting to spend money on improvements,” she said. “I am optimistic. We have been here for 36 years and always concerned about whether we will come back next year. I hope we find some stability with the Forest Service. It definitely looks like we’re heading in the right direction.”

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