Some western Colorado locals were nervous when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt visited the Colorado National Monument in November to announce his latest land-protection initiative.


"Any time the secretary of the Interior comes to little Grand Junction, you're apprehensive about what he's got on his mind," said Warren Gore, a third-generation grazing permittee. "The last thing we want to see is expansion of the monument."


Gore expressed his concerns to Babbitt at a Nov. 19 forum held near the monument's headquarters. Environmentalists, ranchers and politicians talked about whether 73,000 acres of BLM land known as Black Ridge needed to be added to the monument. The area, adjacent to the monument, is currently a wilderness study area.


Babbitt stated his position to the audience: "I want to make certain that this landscape is protected in perpetuity," and he added, "I'm not terribly concerned about whether we make this decision by executive order or legislation. What I care about is (that) the result is acceptable both to you and the secretary of the Interior."


Though not everyone agreed about what level of protection is right for Black Ridge, Maggie Fox, from the Sierra Club's Southwestern regional office, said she thought "the underlying discussion from everyone was: these lands are valuable, these lands are public, these lands need to be protected. And that kind of underlying assumption means that the solutions are already on their way to being found."


Babbitt found no such consensus the following day in Cortez, Colo., where he has his eye on 156,000 acres rich with Anasazi ruins. "It's impossible and ridiculous to think they need to save all those little piles of rocks," rancher Chester Kozar told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.


*Adam Burke