Do your homework | AspenTimes.com

Do your homework

Dear Editor:

After attending Carbondale’s Parks and Recreation meeting last week, and reading the account of Monday’s joint meeting of Pitkin and Eagle county commissioners, it has become clear to me that there is little understanding of why the “user groups” opposed to the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal (HGWP) actually oppose it.

I, like all of my friends, am a responsible traveler in the backcountry, and I “use” the backcountry in a variety of ways (hiking, biking, four-wheeling, snowmobiling). I am very aware of the damage one can do by having little or no respect for the pristine areas we as Coloradoans choose to enjoy, so when I do travel in the backcountry, I do everything possible to have as little impact as possible, no matter which mode of travel I choose. My tax money (in part) helps pay for the public lands on which I recreate, but I (very) recently found out I may lose my right to do so. If HGWP is introduced to Congress, and passes, much of the area’s backcountry recreation access will be off-limits forever.

During recent meetings, talking to a number of “users,” I believe I am typical of the opposition to HGWP; a responsible, multiuse, tax-paying citizen. I am not a “motorhead” (as Jack Hatfield stated), opposed to everything Wilderness Workshop values, nor am I a supporter of the oil and gas industry (as stated by Rachel Richards). I do not want to see these areas commercially developed, nor do I want to restrict motorized or mechanized access to these areas. I would prefer education over broad sweeping closure as a means with which to keep these areas pristine for future use.

Wilderness Workshop (WW) claims 70 percent support for wilderness statewide, based on a 617-phone-call survey, but how was that survey presented? At last week’s meeting, roughly 95 percent of the 200-plus attendees were opposed to HGWP, and yet 80 percent of the room agreed that they did not want oil and gas development in these areas! I’m sure if I worded my questionnaire properly, I could easily garner 70 percent support (or opposition) for wilderness.

WW also references the current statistic of only 2.4 percent wilderness nationwide, and yet neglects to mention that the White River National Forest already has 33 percent of its area designated as wilderness, and if approved HGWP will bump the number to 48 percent … then we have the next proposal in the works, which will bump the percentage to 67!

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As a member of the opposition, we have been “conceding” areas for years, and have never asked to add additional lands to our use area. We typically ask only to keep areas that we already use open for continued future use. What bothers me personally is that it never seems to be enough for the conservationists. Why do we have to keep conceding? The Wilderness Act of 1964 included 6 million acres of dedicated wilderness. As of today the number has reached 109.5 million acres! Why don’t we use the monies earmarked for this proposal for education of users? I believe it would have a greater long-term impact.

Here’s a scenario to give a newcomer to this fight some perspective: I already own/use a large area behind your property, which I have acquired over the past 40 years, but I propose to “grab” 50 percent of your personal back yard, because I believe I know better how it should be used. You would probably reply: “Hell no, you can’t have it!” I would then offer you access through your yard, but I still want most of it. I am guessing that you would tell me to “Get out, you’re crazy!” I claim I have support to “grab” this land, and I am taking my claim to Congress. Are you going to concede any of your land? Well, what percentage will make you happy?… And next year, when I propose another 20 percent or so, can we agree on a compromise then?

I’m sure you (as the reader) can now understand the frustration so many users of the backcountry areas in question are feeling. The proposals never stop, so the fight continues …

This proposal will negatively affect our valley’s economy for years to come, and Wilderness Workshop does not have to present a study of that impact in order to present HGWP to Congress!

I ask that no matter which side of this fight you may be on, that you become more informed! More info: http://www.whiteriverforestalliance.com or http://www.whiteriverwild.org.

John Hembel

Basalt