Camera's top 10 local news stories of 2011

Editor's note: The Camera is counting down the Top 10 local news stories of 2011 as chosen by newsroom staff. Readers also voted for their top picks.

10. Todd Walker slaying on University Hill

9. Homeless challenge Boulder's anti-camping law

8. Travis Masse sentenced to life for sexual assault

7. CU takes stand against 4/20, party school image

6. Jon Embree leads Buffs through shaky Pac-12 debut

5. Occupy Wall Street comes to Boulder

4. Debate over access to Boulder's West Trail Study Area

3. Economic woes reverberate through Boulder County, Broomfield

2. Boulder County allows GMO crops on open space land

Readers' picks

10. New coach Jon Embree leads CU Buffs through rocky first season in the Pac-12

9. CU-Boulder formally closes its School of Journalism and Mass Communication as part of program's reinvention

8. In Fourmile Fire's aftermath, Boulder County residents rebuild their homes and lives

7. Boulder leaders infuriate local mountain bikers over access to West Trail Study Area

6. Fatal and near-fatal car-bike accidents on Lefthand Canyon Drive, North Foothills

5. Occupy Boulder rallies downtown, starts encampment on Boulder County Courthouse lawn

4. Boulder County allows GMO crops on county-owned open space

3. Luke Chrisco charged with spying on women in Boulder restrooms

2. Todd Walker, a University of New Hampshire football player, shot to death on University Hill

After nearly three years of packed public hearings, advisory group meetings, panel discussions, farm tours and public protests, the Boulder County commissioners finally made a decision in late 2011 to allow genetically modified organisms to be planted on open space land.

The long-awaited decision left many conventional farmers relieved and many anti-GMO activists enraged.

The question of whether GMOs should be allowed on open space land stretches back nearly a decade. In 2003, after a taskforce examined the issue, the county commissioners approved the planting of GMO corn on county-owned croplands. And while the issue was somewhat controversial at the time, the public reaction was relatively mild.

But that all changed in 2009, when the public learned that the county was also considering allowing the planting of GMO sugar beets at the request of six farmers who lease open space land.

Spurred at first by the local natural foods industry, public protests popped up in the summer of 2009 and angry members of the public flooded public meetings to ask the commissioners to ban all GMOs on county land. In August of that year, the commissioners decided to delay making a decision about sugar beets until the open space department could create an overarching management plan for the department's 16,000 acres of cropland that would include a policy on GMOs.

The open space department worked for nearly two years to create a draft cropland policy, which was unveiled in October. The majority of the provisions in the plan -- which cover everything from water use to pesticide application to ways to encourage small and organic farmers -- did not raise the public's hackles. But a provision that allowed GMOs to be planted when the benefits of the crops were shown to outweigh the risks inspired ardent public outcry.

After two county advisory boards weighed in on the draft in November -- and after both recommended that the policy be changed to phase out GMOs on county land -- the conventional farmers who support using genetically engineered crops also organized to get their perspective across.

The result was a heated public hearing earlier this month that stretched until 3:30 a.m. and featured a large turnout from both sides of the debate.

A week and a half later, the county commissioners made a decision, unanimously agreeing that GMO corn and sugar beets should be allowed on county land. The commissioners expressed some concerns about allowing other types of GMO crops in the future, but they left the door open for their staffers to evaluate other crops as they are developed.

Now, county staffers are working to create rules to implement the commissioners' decision. At the same time, anti-GMO activists, who say they aren't going away, are looking toward the 2012 election -- two county commissioner seats will be up for election in November -- as a possible avenue to press their cause.