Fact v. Fiction: Dolores Canyons National Monument

Mar 4, 2024

By Kate Groetzinger

What a monument designation would — and wouldn’t — do

The Dolores River Canyon is an important riparian zone teeming with life in arid southwest Colorado. It contains historical sites related to the area’s mining legacy, Indigenous cultural sites, outstanding geologic formations, paleontological sites, world-class recreation opportunities, and incredible biodiversity. In fact, the proposed Dolores Canyons National Monument in Mesa and Montrose counties spans the largest and most biodiverse stretch of unprotected public lands in Colorado.

A presidential monument designation would help protect this canyon from industrial and extractive development, while increasing economic activity in rural communities along the river canyon like Gateway, Paradox, Bedrock, Nucla, and Naturita. The protections would also help protect the quality of water that flows through the Dolores River and into the Colorado River, which brings water to around 40 million people in the West. The monument likely would include the river corridor in Montrose and Mesa Counties in Colorado, downstream of a proposed national conservation area that is still working its way through Congress. But the boundaries of the proposed monument have yet to be finalized.

The majority of Coloradans support this designation, according to a Colorado College poll released last month. A whopping 92 percent of respondents said they support the proposed monument, while only six percent are opposed. Unfortunately, this small contingent of anti-monument folks is using misinformation and scare tactics to gin up opposition to the proposed protections for the Dolores River Canyon.

graphic showing 92% of colorado voters support protections for the dolores river canyon

Sean Pond, a former nuclear engineer who now runs an RV park in Naturita, launched a petition at change.org claiming the monument designation would cancel all mining in the area, end hunting and cattle grazing, and curtail motorized travel. None of this is true. All existing mining, drilling, and grazing rights will continue to exist if the monument is designated. That means anyone who holds a valid mining claim, drilling lease, or grazing right will be able to use the land just as they would have prior to designation.

screenshot showing anti-monument petition

Every national monument has its own set of rules, but most national monuments overseen by the Bureau of Land Management allow cattle grazing, such as Grand Staircase-Escalante, Canyon of the Ancients, and Bears Ears National Monuments. There are also plenty of examples of monuments in which grazing and mining continues, such as the recently-designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument, which contains the now-active Pinyon Plain uranium mine.

As far as recreation goes, a monument designation would not preclude any form of recreation. Visitors and local residents would be able to continue hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, fishing, boating, riding horses, climbing, biking, and — last but not least — riding mechanized or motorized vehicles on designated Bureau of Land Management and county roads, as well as off-road routes, inside the monument. Tribal members would also be able to continue accessing land inside the monument for cultural, spiritual, and traditional uses and activities.

Finally, a monument designation would likely have a positive economic effect on Mesa and Montrose Counties due to increased tourism. A 2017 report by Headwaters Economics looked at the economic impact of national monuments on seventeen neighboring western communities and found that they all experienced economic growth following the designation of a new national monument. That could be a huge boon for local businesses — like Pond’s RV park.

Feature image: Flickr/BLM

Image 1:  2024 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll

Image 2: screenshot/change.org