DeGette eyes wilderness in Thompson Creek tour today |

DeGette eyes wilderness in Thompson Creek tour today

Jeremy Heiman

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, on a tour of sites she’s recommended for wilderness designation, will visit Pitkin County today.

The Denver congresswoman plans to hike in the Thompson Creek area south of Carbondale this morning and meet with county commissioners this afternoon.

DeGette’s wilderness bill, introduced in February, includes the Thompson Creek and Eagle Mountain areas in Pitkin County and other sites nearby.

DeGette hiked Black Ridge Canyon, in Mesa County, on Wednesday and visited another proposed wilderness area in Delta County yesterday. Jamin Spitzer, DeGette’s press secretary, said DeGette and her staff have met with various interest groups along the way, including members of the Farm Bureau, mountain biking groups and environmentalists.

“We’ve had some real good responses,” Spitzer said. “It was an excellent opportunity to get together.”

Extending from a point west of Carbondale all the way to Redstone, the proposed 23,200-acre Thompson Creek area is characterized by red rock fins and hogbacks. Pete Kolbenschlag, West Slope field coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the area has a diversity of tree species that is rare in Colorado, with oaks, maples and mixed conifers.

Part of the rationale for setting aside the Thompson Creek area, Kolbenschlag said, is to benefit wildlife, especially predators. With the Thompson Creek area intact, animals can migrate from the Elk Range across the Crystal River Valley and the Thompson Creek area to agricultural lands and the Grand Mesa high country beyond.

“We’re learning that it’s important that animals can move about,” Kolbenschlag said. Mobility is important for genetic diversity within species and also very important to animals during times of drought, he said.

Other nearby areas included in DeGette’s bill, Spitzer said, are Castle Peak, a 16,180-acre tract north of Eagle; Bull Gulch, an area of winter wildlife habitat along the Colorado River north of Dotsero; a significant addition to the east side of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area; Deep Creek Canyon, a remote gash in the White River Plateau, that is partly on National Forest land and partly on BLM land near Dotsero; and Eagle Mountain, a tiny addition to the north side of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Noting that Wednesday’s visit revealed development encroaching within a mile of the proposed Black Ridge Canyon wilderness, Spitzer said, “With Colorado’s rate of growth, we need to do something now to see that these areas are protected for future generations of Coloradans.”

The Black Ridge area includes Rattlesnake Canyon, with the second largest concentration of arches in the American West, Spitzer said.

DeGette’s bill calls for 1.4 million acres of wilderness in all – 1.1 million on Bureau of Land Management land and the rest on National Forest land. Of the 8.3 million acres of BLM land in Colorado, only 59,000 acres is now designated as wilderness.

Though the BLM land in DeGette’s bill only represents 14 percent of the BLM land in the state, strong opposition has arisen from oil and gas drilling interests, mining interests and off-road vehicle enthusiasts who would be shut out of the land permanently.

Land preservation advocates say it’s important to preserve some BLM lands at lower elevations because of the plant and animal diversity found on those lands. Currently, nearly all lands preserved under the Wilderness Act in Colorado are situated between 11,000 feet and 14,000 feet of elevation. It’s spectacular country, but lacking in biodiversity.

DeGette, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, represents Colorado’s First Congressional District, which includes Denver, part of Aurora and part of Commerce City.

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