The writer’s dilemma: as much as those of us who think we have something to say also tend to believe we perceive the entire firmament of truth associated with our subjects and can name all its constellations, each of us actually stands on a cliff with limited views. We can only speak to the best of our abilities from those positions, speak of and to what we see now in the best language available to us, knowing that we’re missing something, all the while looking forward to finding the frontiers of insight that form at the edges of our current narrative takes. This letter is such an effort. Given the time I had to register my concerns, the current developing attitudes about the “usefulness” of public lands and oil and gas dominance, limited character space for submitting comments electronically, and my current view from the cliff, I felt pressing need to say my say and wrote a “comment” to the Bureau of Land Management regarding my best understanding of the risks oil and gas development would pose to Crossfire Canyon, aka Recapture Canyon, and those of us living near its edges. Readers may notice that I’m not inclined to outrage or agitation over uncertainty. This may be because I’ve faced so many threatening situations for so long that I’ve learned something about directing my focus and efforts and, in cases where the happy ending failed to develop despite my best efforts, living with unfortunate outcomes and what they truth they reveal. But perhaps something in the comment’s contents will have meaning and effect.
Subject: Canyon Country District March 2018 Oil and Gas Lease Sale
Please withdraw Parcels 29 and 30 (Map 7) from your auction and consider permanently closing both parcels to oil and gas development. Three good reasons exist to take such action: 1) Parcel 29 and part of Parcel 30 border the rural residential area at the end of Browns Canyon Road where I and several families live quite close to their westernmost boundaries; 2) both Parcel 29 and 30 cover an environmentally sensitive area, with 29 taking in part of the canyon bottom that includes a series of 10-year-old beaver ponds and their developing riparian zone, as well as a black bear migration route; and 3) both parcels cover an area of dense prehistoric cultural remains that the BLM has already determined to be at risk and worthy of permanent protection.
These two parcels at the end of Browns Canyon Road come up to the edges of a growing rural agricultural/residential area where my family and I live along with several other families. The neighborhood is also a wildlife interface zone, which is one of the reasons many of us live there. Currently, the neighborhood is growing. In the last year, two new houses have been built close to the BLM boundary, with one more close to Parcel 29’s boundary going up now. My own house—where I’ve lived going on 12 years—lies less than 2000 feet from Parcel 29’s western border. Some families live much closer, with one neighbor’s house just the other side of Parcel 29’s fence line. Oil and gas development in this neighborhood could well detract from its character, which currently is one of generous, restorative quiet; abundant wildlife, which poses some challenges but that we still enjoy; and stunning views. We are concerned that any extraction units in our neighborhood would negatively impact that quiet—itself a resource—as well as the landscape’s natural beauty. Furthermore, all of us living on the section of the road in the parcel’s vicinity depend on water wells for our household water. Depending on the method of extraction, oil or gas wells could adversely affect the quality of our water. Just as problematic as wells’ impact on the area’s beauty would be the industrial traffic’s effects upon the neighborhood. Since the natural landscape and all its virtues is one of the big draws for people living in this area, if oil and gas wells are sunk nearby, our property could suffer devaluation.
Regarding the beaver dams: early in 2007, beavers returned to the part of the canyon Parcel 29 takes in. In a feat of engineering prowess they dammed the spring that flows from the side canyon at the Browns Canyon Road trailhead. Prior to their arrival, water in Recapture Creek was ephemeral and dried up mid- to late July. The beavers began damming the spring just before the BLM closed the canyon to OHV travel in September 2007. I spent quite a bit of time in the canyon during the period the beavers built their little desert paradise. As a result of the canyon’s closure, they enjoyed a period of protection that enabled them to build the year-round water park they maintain in the area covered by Parcel 29. A riparian zone that couldn’t have developed otherwise has grown up around the ponds. Before the beavers came, the canyon had the usual seasonal natural qualities, but since the beavers dammed the spring, the year-round ponds support a vibrant range of wildlife, including bluegills and other panfish, crayfish, frogs, ducks, geese, great blue herons, egrets, and so forth. The cattle permitted for the canyon also rely on that water. I am very concerned that oil and gas development would disrupt the beavers’ niche construction efforts, which would be detrimental to the riparian zone there and the life that has come to depend upon it.
A few words about black bears. During all the time over the last 8 years I’ve spent in Recapture, mainly within Parcel 29’s boundaries with occasional forays north, and some south to the Perkins Road crossing, I’ve never seen a black bear (admittedly, a relief) but have come across bear tracks and scat on the canyon bottom trail several times—only in the months of September/October. The tracks I’ve seen always run north, as if the bears are working their way up out of the desert to hibernation sites closer to the Blue Mountains. This suggests to me that some black bears use the canyon as a fall migration route. I don’t know how fossil fuels extraction would impact bears’ use of such a route, but it could reasonably be supposed that it could disruptive.
Finally, I have climbed all over the talus slopes to the foot of the cliffs, all around on the rotational slumps, the flats above the stream bed, and so forth in Parcel 29, and a little bit in 30, though, admittedly, I’ve spent more time on the west canyon rim in section 30 than down in the canyon bottom. If you review photos Laird Naylor took of Parcel 29 during the BLM’s assessment of the canyon prior to making its determination to keep the canyon closed, I appear in some of them–or at least, my hand does. I happened upon Laird in the canyon one day and guided him to some of the sites so he could document them. Ancestral Puebloan cultural sites and artifact streams are laid down thickly Parcel 29, with hardly a spot that doesn’t have a tower fragment, pueblo remnants from one phase of Anasazi culture or another, dwellings at cliff bases, or artifact streams washing downhill from such sites. Petroglyphs also grace the canyon walls low down to the talus slopes, where they are vulnerable to graffiti or bullet damage. Cisterns dot the ground outside larger sites; a few lie along the trail. When the BLM announced in Aril 2017 that it had decided to close the canyon bottom permanently to off-road traffic, the BLM’s Lisa Bryant explained in an NPR article that “the impacts to cultural sites had become a big issue” and that “In the canyon bottom itself, we haven’t authorized motorized access but prefer people to visit the canyon on horseback or foot….” Originally, the OHVs in the canyon didn’t matter much to me. After the BLM closed the canyon, I was ready to live with whatever decision it made. However, the BLM’s April 2017 decision set some parameters in place that must be considered for future canyon use. If the canyon bottom’s recent permanent closure was decided based on threats that vehicular traffic posed to Recapture’s sensitive prehistoric cultural (and perhaps natural) environment, it would follow logically that, likewise, permanently closing this section of the canyon to protect that same cultural environment from the effects of oil and gas drilling is not only consistent with the April 2017 policy but is the right thing to do.
Now. I’m a 61 year old (recent) widow and mother. One of my children is severely disabled and I can’t leave home for very long. This section of Recapture has been a nearby sanctuary for me for over a decade, one I could disappear into for a few hours yet make it home in time to feed my special needs daughter at her mealtimes. I’m even writing a book about some of my adventures in Recapture. I’m aware that when many visitors enter the canyon from the Browns Canyon trailhead, they turn north. I’m one of the few that spends most of their time in the canyon south of where the trailhead empties into the canyon bottom. Parcel 29 is my second home. In the past, I’ve gone into the canyon 3-4 times/week, year round. Few people know that section of the canyon as well as I do and have consistently witnessed its changes since the trail’s closure to OHVs and the beavers’ engineering of the spring. It’s well worthy of permanent protection, not just from ATVs and other off-road vehicles, but from the damages that oil and gas exploration and exploitation could cause to all the sensitive layers of the life of this canyon, prehistoric, historic, and current.