DeGette adds land to wilderness bill, doesn’t expect OK | AspenTimes.com

DeGette adds land to wilderness bill, doesn’t expect OK

U.S. Rep. Dianna DeGette, D-Colo., knows her wilderness bill has little chance of earning speedy approval, but that didn’t stop her from adding lands to her proposal Friday.

DeGette made changes to her bill that would boost the acreage of new wilderness on federal lands in Colorado from 1.35 million to 1.6 million. Realistically, though, the bill has little chance of even being voted on in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, she said.

“It’s not really my intention to pass legislation this year,” DeGette said.

But adding lands to her bill reignites the wilderness debate. DeGette said it has received approval from 350 Colorado businesses and 14 local governments. As expected, it has unflagging support from a coalition of conservation groups called the Colorado Wilderness Network.

That organization asked DeGette to add the new areas to her wilderness proposal. The bill would designate lands in the South Thompson Creek area, south of Carbondale, as well as the Deep Creek area northeast of Glenwood Springs.

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis has introduced a bill that would designate about 7,350 acres of wilderness at Deep Creek. DeGette’s broader bill would include about 21,000 acres at Deep Creek.

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DeGette said she prefers designating wilderness with one broad action rather than piecemeal. She first introduced wilderness legislation with the help of the Colorado Wilderness Network in 1999. Bills failed to win approval in each of the past three years.

The latest bill would designate 59 areas in Colorado as wilderness. Five would be expanded from previous bills, and 16 are new. The changes add 216,000 acres to the Colorado Wilderness Act.

Colorado has about 3 million acres of federal land designated as wilderness, which prohibits development and mechanized travel. Most of that land is above 9,000 feet. The Colorado Wilderness Network is pressing for designation of more land at lower elevations because it provides critical wildlife habitat.

When asked to assess the prospects for approval of a wilderness bill, DeGette said it probably won’t happen unless Democrats regain control of the House.

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