Cong. DeGette pushing additions and study areas
Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette last week announced the introduction of the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2013, which proposes to protect 31 wilderness areas and two potential wilderness areas, totaling approximately 750,000 acres, across the state. Much of it is mid-elevation land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
DeGette’s deputy press secretary, Jen Clanahan, explained that the bill has some local implications. “There are two areas in Gunnison County. They are both additions to existing wilderness areas—one is an addition to the Powderhorn Wilderness area that would add about 3,300 acres and there is an addition to the West Elk wilderness area that would add about 5,000 acres. In Hinsdale County, the bill would designate two Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) as wilderness—the Handies Peak WSA and the Redcloud Peak WSA,” Clanahan said.
The West Elk proposed addition is at the south end of the current wilderness area almost due west of Gunnison. The Powderhorn addition is in the southern portion of the county close to the Gunnison/Hinsdale county line.
DeGette said wilderness protection has always been important to her. “As a fourth-generation Coloradoan, I know firsthand that Colorado’s beautiful lands are one of our state’s greatest resources,” said DeGette. “These special lands not only provide clean air, clean water and critical wildlife habitat; they help drive tourism as our state’s number one economic engine. It is critically important we protect these remaining wild areas so that future generations have access to the same benefits we enjoy today. That is why I am so pleased that after [I have traveled] across the state for many years to engage the public and relevant stakeholders, this proposal has received great support as a way to secure the lands that are so important to so many Coloradoans.”
According to a DeGette press release, “Over the past several years, population growth and corresponding demands have placed increasing pressure on our public lands and resources. For example, 13.6 percent of Bureau of Land Management [BLM] land in Colorado is leased for oil and gas activities, while 2.6 percent is protected wilderness. The Colorado Wilderness Act seeks to balance these demands while keeping an eye on our natural heritage and preserving some of the most ecologically rich areas in our state.”
DeGette said the bill recognizes the need for balanced use of our public lands, and as such, maintains existing grazing, oil and gas, and mineral rights. The areas proposed for wilderness designation are primarily BLM mid-elevation lands and lower-lying canyons. Many of these low-lying areas are underrepresented in our National Wilderness Preservation System, making their inclusion in the Wilderness Act that much more critical.
“The 2013 Conservation in the West poll by Colorado College found very strong support for premier public lands as being an essential part of the state’s economy and necessary to attract high-quality jobs and employers; three-fourths or more of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike surveyed register such support showing land protection is not a partisan issue,” said Prof. Walter Hecox, the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project faculty director, who joined the Congresswoman in a press conference to expand on these findings.
“I have been integrating public comments on this legislation for 14 years and I will continue to do so until we pass it. Coloradoans understand the importance of protecting these special places and preserving our natural heritage,” concluded DeGette. “The local outdoor industry, tourism, our wildlife and our very quality of life depend on protecting these remaining wild lands.”
According to Clanahan, the legislation has been introduced and now awaits action in committee by the majority party, which controls the calendar. “At this time there is not a Senate version of the bill. The current leadership has not historically been favorable to wilderness,” she said. “But the Congresswoman remains committed to doing what she can to protect these last remaining wild areas. As you may know, she has a long history of getting tough legislation passed on a bipartisan basis, so she continues her conversations with her colleagues across the aisle to see what can be done to move the bill.”