Cooperative rivers plan could provide better management

Attendees review visual aids at an open house regarding the Green and Colorado River Comprehensive Management Plans – Mineral Leasing Plan held June 25 at the Grand Center. Photo by Doug McMurdo

A rivers management plan 18 months in the making will provide some much-needed direction to officials and employees at the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands when it is approved.

So said State Lands Coordinator Tony Mancuso during an open house to discuss the draft Green and Colorado River Comprehensive Management Plans – Mineral Leasing Plan June 25 at the Grand Center.

Mancuso and Laura Vernon, a strategic planner with the department, walked attendees through a PowerPoint presentation that explained the process. Mancuso said planners received “lots of help” and that he was “very happy” with the process. “We finally have some direction,” he said.

One of the objectives of the plan was to coordinate with adjacent landowners, namely the Bureau of Land Management and the Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The department’s management areas are not what’s downriver, but “top of the bank to top of the bank,” a point that is getting more difficult to define as the rivers are rapidly changing thanks to human activity.

Why focus on the Green and Colorado rivers? “We’re doing this so we can assess the current status in order to inform future planning,” said Mancuso.

That means looking at the conditions of sovereign lands on the rivers, developing a third land use classification for a river system, streamlining the current easement, lease and application process; designing interactive river segment maps illustrating management strategies and decisions, utilizing best management practices for a range of project types, and creating a list of future potential projects. The department has drafted other plans, such as for the Bear River in northern Utah and Idaho.

The “nuts and bolts” of the plan is assigning classifications, which Mancuso described as “a lot like zoning.” There are five of them and include land that is managed to protect existing resource options, managing to protect potential resource options, managing as open for consideration of use, managing to protect potential resource preservation options, and managing to protect existing resource preservation issues.

Mancuso briefly reviewed the plan during the Monday, July 1 meeting of the Grand County Noxious Weed Control Board. Roger Barton of the Utah Department of Agriculture has taken the lead on the draft plan, but he is set to retire in the near future, stalling the plan for a while. Mancuso explained that the plan won’t be set in action until there is full partnership among agencies that have a stake along the rivers. “It’s subject to agency review, so we are in a holding pattern right now.”