Offshore drilling aids local efforts

Royalties directed to four area projects

Photo courtesy of BLM

Canoeists on the Gunnison River enjoy the scenery at Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Federal funding derived from off-shore drilling royalties is slated to fund a BLM land purchase along the river that will open up access to the area. Enlargephoto

Photo courtesy of BLM Canoeists on the Gunnison River enjoy the scenery at Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Federal funding derived from off-shore drilling royalties is slated to fund a BLM land purchase along the river that will open up access to the area.

The bipartisan budget agreement passed by Congress Dec. 21 includes funding for several environmental projects in southwest Colorado.

The agreement proposes that Congress budget $600 million towards the Land Water Conservation Fund, a national program under the U.S. Department of Interior that distributes revenues collected from offshore oil and gas companies.

The funds go toward various conservation projects across the country.

Pending successful appropriation bills, Colorado is listed for funding on five projects, four of which are in the southwest corner of the state.

The budget proposes to have $1.5 million flow through LWCF and the Trust for Public Lands to protect open space under the Ophir Valley Project.

For the past 15 years, the tiny mountain town has been working with conservation groups to buy up private mining claims and transfer ownership to the Uncompahgre National Forest. Ophir sits in a steep valley, and many of the mining claims are perched on the valley sides.

“We’re down to the last 55 acres at Iron Springs, flat land on the north side of Ophir that is very developable” said TPL’s Tim Wohlgenant. “We whittled down the price from $7 million to $1.5 million and the appraisal is agreed upon so now we just need the funding to close the deal.”

So far, more than 1200 acres around Ophir have been purchased through TPL and the LWCF and transferred to the forest service. The town has about 175 year-round residents.

Waterfall Canyon was slated for development of ridge top homes and a private, helicopter-access ski area until it was purchased for open space with the help of TPL. The area is coveted by locals for its pristine viewshed and epic backcountry skiing.

Ophir’s proximity to swanky Telluride has put pressure on prime real-estate adjacent and above town.

The federal budget for FY 2014 also proposes to invest $1.7 million to protect 1,562 acres of in-holdings with the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. According to LWCF policy experts, the BLM land acquisition funding has a high rating, making it likely to be fully appropriated.

The 173,000-acre BLM monument west of Cortez has the highest density of cultural resource sites in the U.S.. It is estimated that the 6,000 documented sites are only a portion of the archaeology ruins in the monument.

Preserving the views along the San Juan Skyway through conservation programs is also slated for funding for 2014, according to LWCF.

According to the Forest Legacy Program, $3 million will go towards a conservation easement and land health on the 2,448-acre Sawtooth Mountain Ranch property near Ridgway. The easement will go toward conserving timber lands, protect water supplies and wildlife habitat.

Over the last four decades, Coloradoans have invested approximately $231 million from LWCF to expand public access to streams, conserve working ranches, and protect iconic landscapes in the Rockies.

jmimiaga@cortezjournal.com