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Our View: Disinformation dogs Dolores River monument proposal

Grievance politics tend to attract people who feel left out. By Tuesday afternoon, that could be more than 5,000 people, most likely in Mesa and Montrose counties.

They signed an online petition opposing the proposal to establish a national monument around the Dolores River to protect 400,000 acres, including remote river gorges.

Chances are, monument opponents believed the battle cry of Nucla resident Sean Pond who launched a petition accompanied with a false narrative that says Dolores Canyons National Monument proponents aim “to push this through without adequate public discussion or transparency.”

Simply not true.

Colorado Wildlands Project, one of 13 groups and coalitions advocating for the monument designation, is in its draft phase of outreach and public input. The process requires community engagement and feedback.

This situation is Page 1 in the textbook example of disinformation. Pond’s petition says the monument designation could eliminate mining in the uranium-rich area, restrict hunting and grazing, and reduce motorized access and travels.

Again, not true.

Yet a number of people aren’t bothering to look at readily available facts and dispute his claims.

Consider an example coming from the anti-monument crowd. One person wrote on X, formerly Twitter, about the Facebook page “Halt the Dolores Monument: Save our heritage” for “those who want to stop serial Antiquities Act abuser Joe Biden from striking again. It’s time to stop undemocratic, constitutionally dubious land lock-outs by lazy presidents.”

No land would be grabbed or locked out.

As quoted in The Colorado Sun on March 4, Pond made the point that last year, officials at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, created by presidential proclamation in 2000, crafted new Bureau of Land Management-approved rules that limited motorized access, banned recreational shooting and restricted camping.

It’s accurate that each national monument has its own management plan. And impacts from wildly increased visitation can make a difference.

That stance would have been enough. Instead, Pond wandered into speculation, saying stopping new mining claims is akin to “taking money out of our pockets, and taking the hopes and dreams of an entire community.”

He seems sentimental for the days of large-scale mining of uranium and vanadium, operations that have not returned. In the 1980s, residents in the company town Uravan had to leave. The 680-acre mining site was buried and capped as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund project.

Inside a monument that better protects the Dolores River watershed, historic uses and existing rights – including valid mining claims – would definitely continue.

The proposed monument would complement the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Act, backed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in 2022, that protects more than 68,000 acres of public land along a coveted 75-mile stretch of the lower river canyon below McPhee Dam in Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties. The area includes the spectacular Ponderosa Gorge.

That legislation was expertly crafted over 14 years by local bipartisan stakeholders, a mix as varied as you’ve ever seen. Yes, you read that right – 14 years. The group prioritized the health of the river, its watershed, canyons and all the life in and around it, as well as needs of its users.

Players came, then left the table, and returned again. Finally, they settled on protections for a river that supports recreation and agriculture.

That’s a lot of compromise and family dinners missed. But they got it done.

We hope for the same spirit in Mesa and Montrose counties. Dispel disinformation. Make decisions from facts, not speculation. Not choices steeped in fear. Your input is wanted and needed. Talk with neighbors and head down to that enchanting, biologically rich Dolores River.

If any river is worthy of a monument designation, it’s the Dolores River and its surreal surroundings.