CARBONDALE - A fresh salvo has been fired in the sticker war over the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.
Pro-Gems advocates are trying to wrestle back momentum in the public-opinion arena with five new stickers designed to show diverse support among ranchers, hunters, snowmobilers, anglers and even dirt bikers. Each of the new stickers features an image of one of those types of forest users with the words "For Hidden Gems."
For example, one sticker shows a snowmobile with rider flying through the air. The image is supposed to appeal to snowmobilers who support Hidden Gems.
Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based conservation group that is leading the charge on Hidden Gems, is giving away the stickers. Anyone who signs a letter of support for Hidden Gems receives a free sticker.
The anti-Gems folks got a jump on the public-relations battle with a simple but effective design of a sticker in 2010. Their sticker features the universal "no" symbol - the red circle with a slash - over the words "Hidden Gems." About 6,000 stickers were produced in the first run and were distributed by Gems foe John Hembel with the help of the Hi Country 4 Wheelers Club. The stickers are a common sight everywhere in the valley.
There are also a few spinoff stickers with a cynical twist, such as one that says, "Ridden Gems," with a motorcycle chain framing the words.
Hidden Gems supporters responded with an oval-shaped sticker with a sunburst that says, "I love Hidden Gems," with the word "love" represented by a heart. Wilderness Workshop gave away a couple thousand of the oval stickers over the past couple of years. They are also quite visible in the community but not to the degree of the anti-Gems stickers.
Some Hidden Gems supporters came to Wilderness Workshop and complained that the oval sticker "was too fruity. I can't put this on my truck," said Will Roush, a Hidden Gems community organizer with Wilderness Workshop. They said they would welcome the chance to show their support with a different sticker.
Jack Albright, vice president of the White River Forest Alliance, a consortium of users opposed to Hidden Gems, said he would be "truly shocked" if true enthusiasts in the dirt-biking and snowmobiling communities supported Hidden Gems and displayed the sticker. Wilderness designation prohibits motorized and mechanized uses. Support might be more likely among some hunters, anglers and equestrians, he said. Those uses aren't prohibited in wilderness areas.
Roush said there are snowmobilers and dirt bikers who support creation of new wilderness lands. Like a lot of people, they favor multiple ways of getting into the woods.
Wilderness Workshop ordered 250 of the new stickers and has passed out about one-third of them in less than one month, according to Roush.
Regarding the debate, Albright said, "It feels like this has become about the sticker" rather than the land. He said his group feels the focus should be on finding alternatives to wilderness designation that preserve it without closing it to various user groups.
Wilderness Workshop's newsletter says it is doing much more than producing stickers. Proponents of Hidden Gems are trying to build support among part of Colorado's congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis already has introduced a bill in the House to protect 167,000 acres in Eagle and Summit counties. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet publicly announced he would start working on wilderness legislation to protect 62,000 acres in Pitkin and Gunnison counties.
Proponents are lobbying Sen. Mark Udall to introduce a Senate version of Polis' House bill. Only Rep. Scott Tipton "is an unknown," the Wilderness Workshop newsletter said.
The wilderness proponents want 342,000 acres protected. The legislation filed or proposed doesn't contemplate preservation of that much land.