Mesa County Commissioners come out against monument idea

Tom Hesse/CPR News
The Dolores River seen from the Hanging Flume Overlook along Highway 141.

Mesa County’s top elected officials oppose a proposal that would see 400,000 acres of land along the Dolores River turned into a national monument.

Mesa County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution against the creation of a Dolores National Monument via the Antiquities Act, which grants the president the power to unilaterally protect lands. 

“Turning the Dolores area into a national monument … is like taking a sledgehammer to hang a picture on the wall. The tool, in my opinion, is far too blunt for the specific and tailored approach that it needs,” Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis said.

Montrose County Commissioners passed a resolution in opposition to the idea back in March.

The monument idea has been floating around Western Colorado for months. Proponents of the idea say it will pull thousands of acres of already public, federal land under one umbrella, rather than a patchwork of rules. But opponents call the idea government overreach and worry that it could stymie ranching and mining while also inviting unwanted tourism to Western Montrose and Mesa counties. 

President Joe Biden has already designated one monument in Colorado — the Camp Hale Continental Divide Monument. 

Ahead of the resolution vote, Mesa County conducted a survey through Magellan Strategies regarding public sentiment for the idea. The survey results showed that 72 percent of the public favored the conservation of public lands, but 60 percent opposed the monument idea.

Commissioner Bobbie Daniel noted concerns about the lack of stakeholder input. Backers of the idea said their plan is only a starting point, and they’re working with stakeholders to round out an idea that accommodates local concerns. But that message is not breaking through with opponents who feel left out.

To address those concerns, the resolution also includes a pledge to “lead a thoughtful and thorough community process that engages all stakeholders, including Tribal governments, to develop an appropriate and more sustainable form of conversation in the area.” 

“We want to listen. We want to see what your interests are. We want to bring together this collaborative effort for our residents, and that's what we're going to do,” Daniel said. 

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, visited the area for a pair of listening sessions on the topic. Hickenlooper has not taken a position on the idea but said he was gathering input that would inform his stance.

The presidential authority to designate monuments has led to a greater emphasis on elections among conservationists. Notably, the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah was created by President Barack Obama in 2016 and then reduced in size by President Donald Trump about a year later.

Daniel alluded to that situation in her comments, saying that it was all the more reason to develop a conservation plan with local input. 

“I do not want to see something hit the president's desk and have political whiplash of a president signing a proclamation, and then someone else comes into the White House and changes it,” Daniel said.