Tom Cardamone and Ken Ransford: Guest opinion | AspenTimes.com

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Tom Cardamone and Ken Ransford: Guest opinion

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies board of directors and staff together voted to support the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal. ACES’ mission is “To inspire a lifelong commitment to the Earth by educating for environmental responsibility, conserving and restoring the balance of natural communities, and advancing the ethic that the Earth must be respected and nurtured.” The Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal will do just that.

ACES was established more than 40 years ago, and now boasts four stunning sites: at Hallam Lake in Aspen, Toklat in Ashcroft at the upper end of the Castle Creek Valley, the Rock Bottom Ranch in Emma, and Spring Creek, 25 miles up the Fryingpan drainage from Basalt. The Hidden Gems proposal would bring the wilderness closer to ACES’ door at three of its properties. From Hallam Lake, wilderness would be just an hour’s walk away atop Smuggler Mountain; Rock Bottom Ranch lies just 2 1/2 miles from the proposed Basalt Mountain Wilderness; and ACES’ Spring Creek facility would be surrounded by wilderness on three sides.

Last month’s Scientific American discusses the accumulating evidence that human activities are changing the Earth in ways humans have never experienced before. Most compelling is the loss of species, occurring at a rate not seen on Earth since the planet was struck by the asteroid that ended the dinosaur reign 65 million years ago. The main cause of species extinctions is habitat loss. The Hidden Gems campaign targets and preserves the very mid-elevation habitat that species need in Colorado to keep from becoming endangered. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency that approves new water projects, predicts that Colorado’s population will double to 10 million in 40 years. Habitat preservation will only get harder.

In our opinion, the Wilderness Workshop has been very accommodating to interest groups that have asked to remove areas from wilderness designation. The Wilderness Workshop has removed more than 185,000 acres from consideration, paring the current proposed 342,000-acre wilderness plan down by 35 percent. They’ve reduced acreage in 130 separate actions to accommodate bikers, snowmobilers, ATV riders, 4-wheelers, fire officials, ranchers, adjacent landowners, the Colorado Department of Transportation, climbers and outfitters. We support these collaborations and believe the reduced area strikes a fair balance among a variety of community interests.

When we asked, the Wilderness Workshop reported that only 5 percent of roads currently used by motorcycles and ATVs, and only 2 miles of the 177 miles of trails currently used by mountain bikers, in the Roaring Fork Valley will be closed under the Hidden Gems proposal. See the frequently asked questions at bike-wild.org for more on Hidden Gems’ impact to mountain biking. Of 167,297 acres open to snowmobiles, 20,135 acres would be closed, some of which is too steep for good snowmobile use. That may sound like a lot – it amounts to 14 percent of the area currently open – but there’s still more than 180 square miles open to snowmobilers in this valley. That’s equivalent to a strip of land 3 miles wide stretching all the way from Aspen to Rifle.

These opportunities to preserve wilderness come along once a generation, and we should applaud and take advantage of the huge effort that the Wilderness Workshop is putting into Hidden Gems. The towns of Breckenridge and Crested Butte support it, and we hope the Roaring Fork Valley’s four cities will as well. Please join the ACES staff and board of directors in supporting it.

To those members of our valley community whose recreational and other interests may be affected by the Hidden Gems proposal, please remember that ACES’ mission is essentially about preserving natural biodiversity, the native plant and animal life for which wilderness provides such important sanctuary. ACES’ support of Hidden Gems is not about taking issue, but simply to underscore the value and importance of wild nature.