300,000 Acres of Wild Lands in Eastern Colorado Gain Protections

Bureau of Land Management conserves wildlife habitats, free-flowing rivers, and outdoor recreation havens in Royal Gorge region

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300,000 Acres of Wild Lands in Eastern Colorado Gain Protections
A person in a boat navigates a white-crested river with tree-lined canyons on either side.
From its headwaters at an elevation of 14,000 feet near Leadville, Colorado, the Arkansas River drops thousands of vertical feet through a wide range of habitats along its 1,500-mile route to the Mississippi River. Hundreds of thousands of acres of lands along the river in Colorado will now be protected under a new Bureau of Land Management decision.
Bob Wick

Situated on a high plateau in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Royal Gorge region is a land of stunning scenery, rich wildlife habitat, vibrant ecosystems, and a thriving outdoor recreation economy. The region, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River,” just got a big boost, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) updated its management plan for eastern Colorado to safeguard nearly 300,000 acres of land and 60 miles of river.

These protections have been nearly a decade in the making. In 2015, the BLM initiated a management planning process for 668,000 acres of public lands in east-central Colorado, which sit mostly along the Arkansas River corridor west of Pueblo. The revised management plan determines how these lands will be managed for the next two decades, including which lands will be conserved and which will be available for development.

A group of light-brown bighorn sheep are well camouflaged on a steep, rocky hill, with low, dry bushes among the rocks and small conifer trees at the top of the slope.
Bighorn sheep navigate a rocky hillside in the Badger Creek area of the Royal Gorge region. The BLM designated this area as one of many lands with wilderness characteristics (LWCs)—natural areas with excellent opportunities for solitude or quiet recreation—in the region. Some of these lands provide habitat and corridors for species such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, black bears, elk, pronghorns, mountain lions, bald eagles, American peregrine falcons, and Mexican spotted owls. Many LWCs are also popular destinations for hiking, rafting, and other outdoor recreation activities.
John Sztukowski

After an extensive process, which included numerous public meetings, comments, and analysis, the BLM on Jan. 18 issued its Record of Decision (ROD), the last step to finalize the plan. Based on the best available science showing the region’s ecological and cultural value, the ROD will conserve approximately 300,000 acres. These include areas prized for their wilderness characteristics and/or value to the outdoor recreation economy, the region’s current and past culture, and wildlife. The BLM also determined that roughly 60 miles of river are suitable for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act—the U.S. government’s highest form of protections for waterways.

Here is a snapshot of what the ROD will protect.

The BLM’s new plan includes important protections for wildlife habitat, free-flowing rivers, and outdoor recreation areas in eastern Colorado. With this ROD, the agency has found the right balance between development and conservation to help ensure that these intact public lands, the recreational opportunities they provide, and the wildlife and economies that depend on them are sustained into the future.

Laurel Williams manages federal agency policy and local planning work to safeguard lands and waters, wildlife, and communities for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project.

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Press Releases & Statements

Pew Commends BLM for Protecting Colorado's Arkansas River

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Press Releases & Statements

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today commended the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for protecting 300,000 acres of land and for finding 50 miles of rivers suitable for Wild and Scenic River status.

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Arkansas River rafting
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Colorado’s Royal Gorge Region Needs Protection

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Colorado’s Royal Gorge region, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas,” is a hub for river rafters and outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure, pristine scenery, and an abundance of wildlife.

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