Distortion reigns in Hidden Gems debate | AspenTimes.com

Distortion reigns in Hidden Gems debate

Aspen, CO Colorado

Every week, The Aspen Times conducts an online poll about an issue of local interest, and our most recent poll – on the Hidden Gems Wilderness campaign – attracted an unprecedented number of responses. Unfortunately, the huge response did not reflect broad public interest, but merely the determination of a special interest group to “win” the poll.

Yes, someone was stuffing the e-ballot box, as it were. And they were doing a good job of it, claiming more than 90 percent of the votes.

It only got more bizarre from there. Shortly after we’d noticed the odd numbers, we received an e-mail forward from someone affiliated with the other side of the debate (the losing side, at least in terms of the poll); this group was urging its supporters to fight back by stuffing the ballot box in the opposite direction – one person, multiple votes.

This all seemed amusing, until complaints came in from poll participants that their votes had actually tallied to the wrong side. At that point, we reasoned, the whole exercise had become ridiculous, so we spiked the “poll.”

And that’s when the accusations started to fly. Shame on The Aspen Times! We’d pulled the plug because we didn’t like the poll results! We were accused of being – God forbid! – snowmobilers. And then – ack! – part of the “far left wing.”

A lot of hysteria for a non-scientific poll with no official standing or electoral power. But that’s the way the Hidden Gems debate has evolved.

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Frankly, the Times editorial board is still studying the Gems proposal. We need to take a closer look. We’re all for conservation and resource protection, but we’re also mindful of the multiple-use doctrine that prevails on most federal land. We appreciate the Wilderness Workshop’s mission and work, but we’re leery of the all-or-nothing nature of the current proposal. We’re also leery of the arguments floated against the proposal; many locals are misinformed about trail closures and restrictions associated with the Hidden Gems.

We urge everyone with a stake or an interest in public lands to do their own research – go to the proponents’ website, whiteriverwild.org, and take a look yourself. See if you think the proposed areas are worthy of Wilderness designation, see if you’re persuaded by the Wilderness Workshop’s arguments.

The proposal is a big one – 400,000 acres across Colorado’s Western Slope, most of it on the White River National Forest, but many parcels on Bureau of Land Management ground. There are more than 40 individual parcels ranging from 2 square miles in size to nearly 100 square miles, from alpine tundra to high-desert pinyon-juniper forest.

Stop the finger-pointing and take a closer look. Then contact your senators and congressional representatives, because in the end they’re the only ones who can create a Wilderness designation or block it.

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