Canyons of Ancients adopts rulebook

The Canyons of the Ancients got some long-awaited guidance last week. The nearby national monument has adopted a management plan and is trying to strike a balance between archeological preservation, recreation and resource extraction. More than 10 years in the making, the plan will guide activities on the 171,000 acres.

Located 45 miles west of Durango, the Canyons of the Ancients boasts the highest density of archeological sites in the country, often containing more than 100 sites per square mile. The large, primitive, high-desert area was designated a monument by a controversial presidential proclamation June 9, 2000. In the proclamation, President Bill Clinton called for the protection of “the highest known density of archaeological sites in the nation … natural resources and spectacular landforms … rugged and dissected geology … and wildlife species.”

Unfortunately, these cultural and natural resources have faced a variety of threats prior to and since the proclamation. The land has been put to the test by livestock grazing, off-highway vehicle abuse, pot hunters, and oil and gas drilling. However, the CANM is coming into balance. On June 24, the monument announced its new resource management plan, an ambitious attempt to retain archeological character while respecting existing recreational use and longstanding oil and gas and grazing leases.

“I believe that we have done a good job of addressing the language in the proclamation and protecting the natural and cultural resources and balancing that with a multiple use mandate,” said LouAnn Jacobson, manager of the CANM.

Oil and gas extraction represents the biggest balancing act for the monument, according to Jacobson. Currently, 80 percent of the monument is leased for minerals development, and drilling is expected at 150 new locations over the next 20 years.

However, CANM is taking proactive steps to lighten the impacts. The new management plan will require operations to avoid any impacts to archeological sites to the “maximum extent possible;” minimize ground disturbance; prevent landscape fragmentation; and maintain the monument’s visual quality.

“There are a lot of conflicting expectations when it comes to minerals development,” Jacobson said. “But we’re also finding the middle ground.”

Mechanized recreation on the CANM is an issue close to many Durangoans’ hearts. Over the years, the monument’s Sand Canyon trail has developed a reputation as a mountain biking hot spot. However, the Secretary of the Interior directed monument staff to examine impacts from mountain bike recreation. Jacobson noted that several years of monitoring determined that mountain biking can continue in Sand Canyon – but only as a conditional use. If there is evidence of damage from mountain biking, pirate trails or user conflicts, fat tires will be banned at Sand Canyon.

“Mountain biking is permitted conditionally, and it’s restricted to designated routes,” Jacobson said. “The problem is, we’re seeing continued off-route travel in Sand Canyon and elsewhere. We’re going to work with the recreation community to get the message out and emphasize how important it is to stick to designated routes.”

The new management plan went into effect immediately following its announcement. According to its principles, the monument will function as an “Outdoor Museum.” While only 13 to 25 cultural resource sites will be developed, visitors are encouraged to visit the backcountry and “earn their experience through self discovery.”

For its part, Jacobson and the CANM is eager to put a decade of planning behind it and see that process begin. “We’re excited to be able to move forward and start implementing these policies on the ground,” she said.

Meanwhile, conservation groups and leaders from across the West have selected the Canyons of the Ancients to mark the 10th anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System, the nation’s newest permanent collection of protected public lands and waters. CANM is one of the National Conservation Lands’ signature sites, and on July 10, conservationists and officials will discuss both success stories and increasing threats to the protection of these lands. They also will take part in a restoration project at the monument as a kick-off for what is being called a national “Season of Service.”

­Discovery Museum celebrates milestone

The Durango Discovery Museum is continuing to make strides toward opening day. Excavators are digging, workers are putting in overtime, and exhibits are in various stages of development. In two weeks, the museum will celebrate another major milestone, opening the Carlton Family Science Education Center on July 21.

The center will be housed in the old garage/storage building at the Powerhouse. The completely renovated building will provide workshop, office, event, exhibit and learning-lab space for the museum.

The greater Durango Discovery Museum is still approaching a grand opening Oct. 14-16. However, the museum recently provided a sneak peek at some of its hands-on exhibits, all of which are based on the theme “energy: past, present and future.” Front and center is the elaborate Solar Mirrors installation that will involve play and experimentation with sunlight and solar energy principles. The E-Tree play area will be the new home of Durango Discovery Kids. It was designed with “the energy and excitement of young learners and budding scientists” in mind. The SparkShop lab space will give visitors the tools and materials to discover the artist, scientist, inventor and geek inside. It promises to become a go-to place for science fair projects and wild-hair contraption building. And the Powerhouse Theater will present multimedia presentations, films, plays, lectures and science demonstrations.

Mountain Studies rallies around pika

The San Juan Mountains’ “canary in the coal mine” goes under the microscope next week. The Mountain Studies Institute will hold a July 13 workshop to explore the importance of the American Pika in relation to climate change in alpine ecosystems.

The American pika lives in boulder fields near mountain peaks all over the Western United States. Adapted to cold alpine conditions, pikas are intolerant of high temperatures and can die from overheating when exposed to temperatures higher than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Global warming threatens pikas by exposing them to heat stress, lowering food availability in mountain meadows, reducing the amount of time they can gather food, and reducing the insulating snowpack during winter.

“As temperatures rise, pika populations at lower elevations are being driven further upslope until they have nowhere left to go,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The workshop will include information on the ecology and distribution of pika and will also provide an avenue for interested citizens to get involved in conservation efforts. Attendees will be trained in proper methods of pika monitoring and data submission.

The free event meets at the MSI Field Station in Silverton from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and includes coffee and breakfast. Visit for details.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows