CARBONDALE - The latest effort to try to convince U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to support the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign in Pitkin, Garfield and Gunnison counties is out of the hands of environmentalists and into the mitts of business owners.
Thirteen business owners met with the congressman for an hour in Carbondale on Jan. 12.
"Each of the groups spoke and expressed how meaningful and important each person's wilderness experiences were and what a boon wilderness was to the success of each business," said Bill Stirling, former Aspen mayor and owner of a real estate company. He helped organize the meeting with Tipton.
The 13 business representatives included real estate agent Bob Starodoj, developer and businessman John McBride, architect Harry Teague and former Pitkin County commissioner and Rocky Mountain Institute consultant Michael Kinsley. They are all from the Aspen area. The group also included Carbondale ranchers Bill Fales and Ty Jacober, Carbondale architect Steve Novy and Grand Junction metalworker Chris Muir.
"We wanted to demonstrate it's not just ski bums and forest people in the summertime that support this," Stirling said. "I wanted to get that diverse voice."
They are part of a larger group of 176 business owners who signed a letter to Tipton and U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet that urges support for Hidden Gems. The 176 businesses range from Aspen Skiing Co. to a Carbondale brewery, Stirling noted.
The group meeting with Tipton didn't include any representatives of Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based nonprofit group heading the effort to add wilderness. Wilderness Workshop staff members were nervous about sitting out the meeting, according to Stirling.
"Of course they were concerned about what we might say," he said.
So the 13 business representatives avoided technical discussion of the wilderness plan. They stressed the importance of wilderness and the outdoors to businesses in the Colorado mountains. Stirling said hunting and fishing in Colorado account for about $2 billion in spending in the $10 billion outdoor-recreation industry.
Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Pitkin, Garfield and Gunnison counties. Wilderness proponents want him to sponsor a bill to add wilderness in the district or at least not oppose it.
Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District, has introduced a Wilderness bill for Eagle and Summit counties. Its aim is similar to the Hidden Gems proposal. The bill would designate 167,000 acres in the two counties as wilderness or special management areas.
Polis' bill didn't include lands outside his district. The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign envisions adding roughly 134,000 acres of wilderness in Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties in addition to the lands in Eagle and Summit counties.
Tipton's support, or at least his neutrality, is vital to getting Congress to approve wilderness designation to public lands in his district, Stirling said.
In the Jan. 12 meeting, Tipton talked for approximately 15 minutes about his view on adding wilderness, according to Stirling.
"His biggest concern was fire protection," he said. "We had a chance to trade ideas on some of his areas of concern."
A follow-up letter will be sent to Tipton with specific ideas on how to accommodate firefighting in new wilderness areas and on other topics, Stirling said. An invitation also will be extended to Tipton to visit some of the proposed Hidden Gems next summer.