Vermillion Basin

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Vermillion is a real jewel because it has diverse landscapes and natural features, including limestone ridges with interesting plant associations, the "scenic wonderments" of Irish Canyon and Vermillion Canyon, slickrock sections, P-J uplands, and clay badlands. The petroglyphs are well-known and there is a rarity, a rare, primitive BLM campground awaits visitors on the border of the Roadless Area. In short, Vermillion has everything for the complete BLM wilderness experience, EXCEPT a large number of human visitors.

Kirk Cunningham, Boulder

Wilderness Qualities
Vermillion Basin is host to a large number of rare plant species and communities. The proposed wilderness includes all or parts of five areas identified by the Colorado Natural Areas Program as potential Research Natural Areas for protection of rare plants.

Wilderness values are enhanced not only by this diversity of uncommon plants, but also by the array of geologic formations, petroglyphs, seashell fossil beds, colorful badlands, and diverse topography.

The central Vermillion Basin, including the Dry Creek area, consists of a desert canyon with sandstone layers shaping, coloring, and breaking the soft sediments. All around lie beautiful and delicate badlands. Irish Canyon slices deeply into crumbling uplifted limestone. BLM identified Irish Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) because of its remarkable geologic and botanical resources.

The canyon exhibits the most complete record of geologic history in the Uinta Mountains, offers significant insights to regional archaeology, contains some of the most notable rock art in western Colorado, and harbors a number of sensitive remnant plant associations.

Irish Canyon is also designated a Colorado Natural Area -- a separate state system that recognizes the finest examples of Colorado’s original and unique landscapes. Sites qualifying as Colorado Natural Areas contain at least one unique or high quality feature of statewide significance such as a native plant community or habitat for rare plants or animals.

Vermillion Basin encompasses much of Colorado's largest Natural Area – Irish Canyon (13,500 acres). Irish Canyon is an outstanding example of a beheaded stream valley -- a canyon cut by a stream that was later captured by the adjacent stream drainage (Vermillion Creek). The Natural Area spans both Cold Spring Mountain and Vermillion Basin CPW units.

East of Irish Canyon, the Natural Area includes a large playa wetland known as Irish Lakes, one of the only wetlands in far northwest Colorado.

Vermillion Canyon contains one of the most spectacular collections of petroglyphs found in Colorado. At least eight panels, four of them with dozens of petroglyphs, line the canyon walls. One petroglyph rises over six feet high on a ledge 40 feet above the canyon floor. Other petroglyphs feature bow hunting, religious figures, coyotes, elk, deer, and footprints. The canyon itself is similarly spectacular, with desert varnish, sculpted sandstone, and a steep crumbling cliff rising more than 1,000 feet.

Approximately one-half of the BLM's 6,500-acre Lookout Mountain ACEC (also designated as a Colorado Natural Area by the state) lies within the north unit of the proposed wilderness. Lookout Mountain ACEC contains four plant taxa listed by the Colorado Natural Areas Program, including the only known occurrences in Colorado of the Townsendia strigosa (hairy townsendia) and Sphaeromeria capitata (rock tansy), as well as Astragalus detritalis (debris milkvetch) and Cryptantha caespitosa (tufted catseye). Lookout Mountain and the adjacent Vermillion Bluffs comprise a dramatic escarpment 1,700 feet in elevation, with views encompassing much of northwest Colorado. The colorful landscape includes scenic badlands, earthflows, and slumps.

All of the 580-acre Vermillion Bluffs Research Natural Area falls within the proposed wilderness boundaries. This research site is proposed for protection of the best-known occurrence of the Critical National Concern Atriplex confertifolia/Agropyron spicatum (Shadscale saltbush/Bluebunch wheatgrass) plant association.

Nearly all of the 275-acre G-Gap Research Natural Area would also be protected. The G-Gap site includes two plant associations of state concern and the best condition occurrence of the regional endemic plant, Cymopterus duchesnensis, the Duchesne bisquitroot.

Solitude in Vermillion Basin is outstanding, owing to the remote location of the area and to a great number of secluded hills, gorges, ridges, and a creek bed (Dry Creek) that runs the length of the area.

Wildlife includes pronghorns, mule deer, golden and bald eagles, and game birds. Vegetation in the area is largely saltbush and sagebrush, with scattered patches of juniper. A variety of desert wildflowers can be found, including Indian paintbrush, scarlet gilia, lupine, larkspur, and phlox.

If not protected as wilderness, the Vermillion Basin roadless area will likely be roaded for oil and gas exploration.

Resource Information
Only a small portion, approximately 3,855 acres, at the north end of Vermillion Basin is covered by oil and gas leases. None of the leases has been developed, however, and much of the proposed wilderness, including the Vermillion Bluffs, has been identified as a Fragile Soils Management Area in BLM's Little Snake Resource Management Plan.

There is no timber resource of any consequence present in this badlands country.

The grazing allotments in the Vermillion area are large because of sparse forage. Parts of six grazing allotments cover 190,000 acres of federal land. The allotments are used for winter and spring forage for cattle, sheep, and horses. Grazing developments include several stock ponds, watering tanks, fences. A holding corral and several windmills are located outside of the boundary.

Vermillion Basin is an arid area with intermittent watercourses. The Dry Creek drainage runs through the area. About a dozen stock ponds with one acrefoot water rights exist in Vermillion Basin, along with about 15 springs. Many of these are owned by the BLM, and are held for recreation, stock, and other purposes.

Boundary Issues
The boundary of the south Vermillion Basin unit is generally defined by Moffat County roads 10N and 46, ways on public land, a telephone line on the western border, private land near state highway 318, and topographic features. It includes 59,000 acres of BLM land and 2,520 acres of state land. The boundary has been drawn to exclude private land with the exception of one parcel of 200 acres directly in the heart of the area. No natural or artificial boundaries could be found on the ground that might explain the separation of the Irish Canyon and Douglas Draw inventory unit's accordingly, they have been combined into a single area in this proposal.

The north unit of Vermillion Basin includes two roadless areas originally inventoried by BLM, Lower Dry Creek and North Lookout, and totals 26,620 acres. The road that separated these two areas is unused and should be closed to the base of the bluffs.

The eastern and southern boundary of the north unit is defined by the rim of the Vermillion Bluffs. The western and northern boundary is defined by roads and, at times, by Dry Creek. Two ways in the southwestern portion of the unit, one of which is impassable, would be closed. One road on the north side leads to a stockpond and is cherrystemmed. These roads and topographic features provide easily definable, manageable boundaries.


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vermillion cwp
If not protected as wilderness, the Vermillion
Basin roadless area will likely be roaded for
oil and gas exploration
(Mark Pearson)

vermillion cwp
Rock art in Vermillion Basin.
(Kurt Kunkle)

vermillion cwp
Solitude in Vermillion Basin is outstanding, owing to the remote location of the area and to a great number of secluded hills, gorges, and ridges.
(Kurt Kunkle)




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