Gems is a chance of a lifetime |

Gems is a chance of a lifetime

Dear Editor:

I drove two hours from Aspen to Edwards via Cottonwood Pass in Eagle County, probably part of your district, to speak strongly on behalf of the proposed Hidden Gems. Though I have flown over a large part of the proposed Hidden Gems with Bruce Gordon of Ecoflight, I was able on the ground to see all of the north side of Basalt Mountain and much of Red Mountain, all part of the proposed Hidden Gems plan.

This is a scenic route from Highway 82 over to Interstate 70 … shorter distance but longer time. You feel like you are on top of the world with sage fields, spring-fed small lakes, groves of aspens, wonderful meadows and an abundance of junipers and pinion. I had an epiphany: This look and perspective should still be just this same way 100 years from now. Only with passage of the Hidden Gems will this be true.

These extensive hearings are required as part of a Wilderness designation process … as it should be! It ought to take time, effort and scrutiny in order to designate Wilderness. We appreciate your hands-on involvement by running this series of meetings. How do you think the million-plus acres already designated became Wilderness? It happened only because of the Herculean efforts by a small, passionate, dedicated, brave and far-sighted group of women over a period of years. I do not hear anyone complaining from any sector of users about dismantling this miracle of habitat protection already in existence with no roads, no drilling, no logging, and it will be that way forever.

I have attached an endorsement of the Hidden Gems by the Aspen Board of Realtors Wilderness subcommittee. This group of realtors was formed by Craig Ward, Bob Staradoj and myself. We and our committee members were determined to acknowledge the Wilderness Workshop’s extensive outreach to accommodate the various users of the Gems and adjacent areas. The Workshop made numerous amendments, and surgically carved out hundreds of thousands of acres from the original plan. Though one might think that “Realtors for Wilderness” is an oxymoron, these realtors realize and understand the positive effects of being surrounded by so much Wilderness, and wanted to acknowledge the Workshop’s assiduous efforts to respond to the disparate user groups, who are yearning to protect their access and not feel shut out from public lands. Ninety-five percent of the subcommittee members signed our resolution.

More than 10 million people use the White River National Forest each year. Seven million-plus of these users are skiers. The alliance of users have criticized the ski towns for attracting so many visitors to our ski areas, suggesting that this kind of intensive use is an inordinate amount of pressure on the public lands. Thank God we are able to concentrate 76 percent of the White River users carefully and skillfully on fewer than approximately 25,000 skiable acres for recreational skiing and fun. What if all these skiers were willy-nilly spread throughout the entire White River Forest? The forest would be a mess! The Aspen Skiing Co. has just recently endorsed the Hidden Gems as presented to the congressman at his hearings by the Wilderness Workshop.

Some environmentalists in the past criticized ski areas for clear-cutting trails that leave scars forever. However, the thoughtful stewardship of these approximately 25,000 acres included in all the Colorado ski areas is actually an amazingly efficient utilization of very little habitat to accommodate so many satisfied visitors.

When I served as mayor of Aspen from 1983-91, one of the biggest accomplishments of our council, previous councils and the Pitkin County commissioners was to protect minimum stream flows in Pitkin County. These streams flow through and around Aspen. They are all feeder streams to the legendary giant, the great Colorado River. The Front Range development communities and existing suburbs around Denver lust after our Western Slope stream flows. Though we lost some of the diversion battles in the late 20th century, we still purchased all the water rights we could to protect the streams for the habitat, to keep the streams healthy and to attract anglers, kayakers, and rafters, who are so important to our and the state’s economy. We were strongly criticized by the Front Range water consumers. We stuck to our guns, because we believed what we were doing was in the long-term best interest of the Western Slope and all of Colorado. We did it because it was the right thing to do for the future. Approving the Gems is the also the right thing for the future.

The habitat, unfortunately, cannot speak for itself. Adopting the Hidden Gems is the appropriate long-range view. Adopting the Hidden Gems as Wilderness means you are looking through a wide-angle lens, not through a narrowly focused lens. Adopting the Gems is in the long-term best interest of the state of Colorado, the nation, future generations, and the wild habitat with its diversity of fauna and wild creatures. The use of these proposed Hidden Gems by the other approximately 2.5 million users, mostly using snowmobiles, dirt bikes and ATVs, is being compromised minimally to zero by earmarking the Gems as Wilderness. The Wilderness Workshop made numerous amendments and adjustments of boundaries, and surgically carved out hundreds of thousands of acres from the original plan.

Congressman Polis, my fearless forecast is that if you support the Gems as now assembled and presented to you, this could be far and away the most important piece of legislation you could sponsor and pass in your congressional career. Please do not miss this opportunity.

Bill Stirling


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