Environmentalists hail proposal for new wilderness
Valley environmentalists on Wednesday hailed a proposed federalwilderness bill for Colorado as a visionary leap that will protectdiverse ecosystems and quality of life.U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, said she will introduce federallegislation on Monday to preserve nearly 1.4 million acres ofscenic desert and high country in western and central Coloradoas wilderness.DeGette’s proposal includes 49 areas – including six in or nearthe Roaring Fork Valley – from the Diamond Breaks in northwestColorado to the San Luis Hills near the New Mexico border.”We have a responsibility and an obligation to future generationsto leave them what was left to us, the unspoiled beauty of Coloradowilderness,” DeGette said at a Denver press conference.A small gathering of environmentalists and reporters at SayrePark in Glenwood Springs gave valley activists a chance to promotethe legislation locally.”The wildness of these areas gives an identity to all of us wholive here,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, whoannounced her board’s wholehearted support for the proposal.Hal Sundin, a member of the 100 Club in Glenwood Springs, saidDeGette’s bill sets aside one-eighth of the state’s U.S. Bureauof Land Management lands, and leaves seven-eighths for mining,drilling and motorized recreational interests.”Leave us the one-eighth, so not everything will be torn up,”said Sundin. “Wilderness is an asset forever.”Sloan Shoemaker, staffer for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, notedalmost all of Colorado’s present 3.3 million acres of wildernessare in the high country. “They’re beautiful, but they are mostlyrock and ice. Biologically they are not that valuable,” he said.But most of the 1.4 million acres in this latest proposal arein desert country and along rivers, and would round out the varietyof ecosystems in the state’s wilderness, he said.DeGette’s proposal met with immediate opposition from U.S. Rep.Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction. Nearly all of the 49 areas liewithin his 3rd Congressional District.”Congressman McInnis certainly supports wilderness designation,particularly in areas like the Spanish Peaks,” said his presssecretary, Will Bos.”But wilderness designation is the most extreme land managementtool at the federal government’s disposal. To arbitrarily applythat to 1.4 million acres is ludicrous. This bill short-circuitsthe entire BLM and Forest Service process for reviewing how tomanage these lands,” Bos said.Bos said DeGette’s unilateral proposal won’t fly with electedofficials on the Western Slope, particularly since none of thelands lie within her urban district. He called the plan “incrediblyirresponsible.”Wilderness supporters argue that federal lands belong to all Americans.”Diana DeGette has a right, and certainly a responsibility, sinceso many of her constituents favor wilderness, to introduce thisbill,” said Pete Kolbenschlag of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.”Wilderness lands belong to the nation, to all of us,” Farrisagreed. “If she has the vision to do this, more power to her.It should not be a regional thing.”DeGette’s plan takes in 800,000 acres of land proposed for wildernessdesignation by the BLM, and adds 388,500 acres of other BLM landsand 280,300 acres of national forest lands.It includes six areas in the vicinity of the Roaring Fork Valley,including:Thompson Creek, 20,950 acres, southwest of Carbondale. The areatakes in a two-mile stretch of the creek, and runs from JeromePark south to Dutch Creek, taking in Assignation Ridge, PerhamCreek and the Braderich Trail.Eagle Mountain addition to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness,330 acres. Adding this steep hillside just west of Snowmass Villageto the wilderness would move the wilderness boundary downslopeto match natural contours.Hack Lake addition to the Flat Tops Wilderness, 9,120 acres. Theaddition would take in the wooded flanks of the Flat Tops nearSweetwater Lake.Deep Creek, 8,000 acres. This nearly impassable gash through limestonecliffs from the south side of the Flat Tops is best known forits caves. The proposal runs from rim to rim for nearly 15 miles,from Deep Lake almost to the Colorado River.Castle Peak, 16,180 acres. This rocky summit, a landmark for miles,oversees rolling timber and wetlands north of Eagle. It offerssuperb wildlife habitat.Bull Gulch, 15,000 acres. Directly west of Castle Peak, Bull Gulchboasts a red rock canyon as the land drops from a forested rimnear 9,700 feet down to the banks of the Colorado River.
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