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September 30, 2010
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Polis prepares Wilderness bill

A Wilderness bill loosely related to the controversial Hidden Gems proposal is about to hit the big stage of Congress - sort of.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis planned to introduce a bill Wednesday night with a proposal for Wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties, a spokeswoman for his office confirmed. Polis communication director Lara Cottingham said details of the bill wouldn't be shared until Thursday. She had no comment when asked if the bill will resemble draft legislation that Polis circulated in August.

Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, which includes Eagle County.

Quick and decisive action on the Polis bill is impossible. Congress voted Wednesday to adjourn for the fall campaign at the completion of business late Wednesday or early today. No action can be taken on the bill during recess. While Democrats control the House now, the makeup could be substantially different after the November election.

It wasn't immediately clear if there was any strategic advantage to the bill being introduced Wednesday night.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop and a central figure in the Hidden Gems proposal, declined to comment on Polis' action.

Polis' draft of the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act proposed Wilderness for about 90,000 acres and lower levels of protection on another 80,000 acres, placing some level of protection on a total of 170,000 acres.

The environmental coalition that is promoting the Hidden Gems sought Wilderness designation, the highest protection, on about 244,000 in the two counties.

Although Polis pared about 74,000 acres from the Hidden Gems plan in his draft, the environmental coalition said it would support his proposal and hailed it as a victory.

But opponents were also pleased because it removed several high-profile areas from a possible Wilderness designation.

One of those areas is Basalt Mountain. The Hidden Gems coalition wanted 12,150 acres on the mountain protected. The Basalt fire department objected to Wilderness designation on about half of the mountain, contending the designation would eliminate the ability to reduce dead wood and other fuels, and it would impede efforts to fight wildfires.

Polis' draft legislation eliminated the entire mountain.

In a statement issued by Polis' office last month, he said he focused on "consensus areas" in his draft. He also warned he could tweak his proposal before introducing legislation.

"The discussion draft is not to be considered final, but Polis hopes to introduce a bill this fall preserving areas currently ready for legislative action, while continuing to build consensus around other areas not appropriate for legislation at this time," the statement said.

Lands in Pitkin and Gunnison counties weren't in Polis' draft.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 30, 2010 07:13AM Published Sep 30, 2010 02:44AM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.