Conservationists and McInnis at odds over wilderness plan | AspenTimes.com

Conservationists and McInnis at odds over wilderness plan

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and some environmental groups showed their already rocky relationship stands little chance for improvement when the new legislative session starts in January.

McInnis and groups such as the Aspen Wilderness Workshop traded rhetoric Tuesday over a wilderness bill that McInnis introduced Monday with no real intent of getting passed before sometime in 2003.

McInnis on Monday touted his introduction of a bill that would add 58,000 acres of wilderness lands in Colorado, including a hefty amount in the Roaring Fork Valley. McInnis said his bill would create the 50,000-acre Red Table Mountain Wilderness, in Eagle County north of the upper Fryingpan Valley drainage. The bill would have also added lands to the existing Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.

But the Aspen Wilderness Workshop and three allied organizations fired off allegations Tuesday that McInnis’ proposal was for “wilderness-lite.” Their statement says the Red Table Mountain Wilderness proposal is rife with problems.

“Although always pleased when a member of Congress shows interest in designating wilderness, conservationists were taken aback at the bill that would create a wilderness fragmented by motorized corridors, jeopardized by seriously inadequate water protection, and subject to unrestricted landings and maneuvers by National Guard aircraft,” conservation groups said in a press release.

They claimed McInnis’ bill would allow continued use of 38 miles of roads and trails ? contrary to the wishes of the U.S. Forest Service and its White River National Forest Plan.

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McInnis spokesman Blair Jones responded Tuesday that it is too bad the conservation groups weren’t taking a more cooperative stance.

“The congressman is sorry these groups have chosen not to participate in this process, but he is going to move forward with this wilderness legislation and deal with groups who are concerned with preserving Colorado’s beauty and protecting its water,” said a statement provided by Jones.

The posturing by both sides is moot, at least for now. The legislation has little chance of approval as this lame-duck session of Congress prepares to adjourn. It must be reintroduced in 2003, Jones said.

He stressed that the bill McInnis introduced Monday was intended to represent only a “starting point.”

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]