Colorado Pushes to Add Wilderness

It might be late in the session in an election year, but Colorado’s senators continue to push for additional wilderness designations in the state, recognizing the economic and and environmental benefits of untrammeled land. Last week, Senator Michael Bennet introduced a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango.

The bill would establish a long-term management plan for the land based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which includes local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders, and other interested citizens.

“The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer.  It deserves to be protected for our outdoor recreation economy, and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy,” Bennet said. “This bill originated from a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community. Their collaborative approach set the tone early for a public process that led to a strong bill.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, selective timber harvesting and grazing.

There is very little chance the measure will pass before the Senate gears down for the year, but at least the law is on the books this year.

As per the consensus of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, about 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.

The Wilderness Act also contains several provisions to provide for active land management in wilderness areas as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.  Finally, per request of the Durango City Council, the bill would protect Animas Mountain and Perins Peak near Durango from future federal mineral leasing.

Supporters of the bill include the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the International Mountain Biking Association, and the Durango Herald editorial board among others.

“We commend you for respecting the hard work of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup. We support the legislation, and stand ready to help in whatever way to see it enacted into law,” said the La Plata County Commissioners.

“The residents of Durango support Senator Bennet’s legislation to protect Hermosa Creek in a way that respects the variety of interests in our community. We especially appreciate the inclusion in this bill of a provision the City of Durango formally requested to put our cherished local icons Animas Mountain and Perins Peak off limits to oil and gas development,” said Durango City Council Member Christina Rinderle.

Last year, Bennet wrote an op-ed in the Durango Herald, outlining his plans to seek feedback from interested Coloradans to build on the framework the workgroup set for the bill.

For more information on the bill and Hermosa Creek, visit Bennet’s website athttp://www.bennet.senate.gov/hermosacreek/.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. In affiliation with Summit County Voice.

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