|We are excited to present a Grape Creek Virtual Tour, teaming up with our friends at EcoFlight, to highlight the illegal proposed mining threats to the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area and proposed Wilderness. The short video includes a recent EcoFlight flyover of the rugged and scenic Grape Creek watershed, just west of Cañon City, with expert “virtual passengers” practicing super safe social distancing measures, who explain the values of Grape Creek and the proposed mining threats to local wildlife, recreation, and the economy.|
The Canadian company, Zephyr Minerals, has proposed gold mining exploration onto the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and proposed Wilderness, which passed the US House earlier this year under the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, part of Congresswoman DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act.
Last year the Colorado State Land Board approved a Conditional Use Permit for Zephyr Mineral’s proposed gold mining on the Grape Creek – Horseshoe Mountain State Stewardship Trust Parcel. Zephyr is now looking to nearly triple their exploration onto BLM’s Grape Creek WSA, which should be illegal because the company does not have a valid existing right and thus their exploration violates BLM’s non-impairment criteria for WSA management.
Alarmingly, Fremont County approved the proposal earlier this year, and if it moves forward with state permits that Zephyr is currently seeking, exploration will begin this July as the local BLM Royal Gorge Field Office has decided not to even do an environmental review or public input process!
Exploratory mining impacts onto the Grape Creek proposed Wilderness will include drill holes, helicopter landing pads and low flyovers, and laying pipes that will pump water out of Grape Creek to the exploration sites.
Zephyr Minerals has erroneously claimed in a recent Cañon City Daily Record article that in utilizing helicopters there will be no impact, however low helicopter flying and landing greatly disturbs and stresses local wildlife, including the local Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd, Colorado’s official state animal.
The Canadian mineral company also does not acknowledge the threats that their mining exploration, including pumping water out of Grape Creek, will have on the local fish population, angling and other backcountry recreation, or tourism and the local economy.
And most concerning is that instead of outright rejecting this illegal proposal, the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office is choosing to not even do an environmental assessment or public input process, even though they could and should, and would rather just work behind the scenes with Zephyr. BLM Royal Gorge Field Manager, Keith Berger, signed off on this in a March 2020 letter to Zephyr.
The BLM also manages this area of our public lands as the Grape Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which they have identified as “a corridor of significant naturalness character with unique high desert riparian resources, scenic and visual qualities, flora, and fauna values, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and peregrine falcon nesting areas”. The BLM is supposed to manage and protect these critical environmental and recreational values.
Where do things stand now?
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety (DRMS) is currently assessing Zephyr’s mineral application proposal to expand onto the Grape Creek proposed Wilderness and WSA. If DRMS notices any deficiencies in the application, then Zephyr will be asked to fix it. This would be a 30-day process but could be extended up to a year at Zephyr’s request.
DRMS is more focused on if this application meets Colorado’s minimum mining and safety standards, and will not likely address the legality of mining in BLM’s Wilderness Study Area or take other area values into the equation.
Zephyr plans on beginning their mining exploration into the Grape Creek proposed Wilderness and WSA in July of this year! If DRMS does approve their application, that is the track that we are unfortunately currently on.
What can I do?
Since the BLM does not plan to have an official public comment period for this very disconcerting proposal, Wild Connections suggests that if you have any concerning comments or questions, or want to let the BLM know that they should not open up the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area to illegal mining exploration, direct them to BLM Royal Gorge Field Manager, Keith Berger, at email@example.com.
Putting public pressure on the BLM is one of our best opportunities to get them to act responsibly as a steward for our Grape Creek public lands.
For more info and talking points, go to: http://www.wildconnections.
Jim, John, Alison, Claude, Karl, Misi, Kristin and John
Wild Connections Board and staff
Photos: Wild Connections banner: Jean Smith, EcoFlight Grape Creek Virtual Tour: EcoFlight, Grape Creek: Wild Connections