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Gems proposal too vast

Dear Editor:

The Upper Frying Pan Valley Caucus is a citizen advisory organization of more than 600 residents whose purpose is to advise Pitkin and Eagle counties on land-use issues.

On behalf of our members we write to you to oppose the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal. After extensive study our membership voted on whether to support this proposal, and 92 percent voted to oppose the proposal.

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We asked the proponents to eliminate the proposed areas in our vicinity (the Fryingpan Valley), but they refused to separate it away from the whole proposal. Therefore, we must oppose the whole proposal.

Following are some of the reasons for our opposition.

The true wilderness gems in Colorado have already been preserved as Wilderness. The majority of the new areas being promoted as Wilderness are not suitable for such designation (according to the Wilderness Act standards) since human presence has influenced the character of these areas for many decades. The Colorado Midland Railway went through this valley in the 1880s, setting up historical areas that we need to appreciate today. It is vital to maintain public access to this significant historical study area.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has designed buffer zones outside of existing Wilderness areas that can be used for recreation to further protect the Wilderness areas. The proposal would eliminate these buffer zones by taking the Wilderness areas down to 30 feet away from county roads.

With the pine beetle epidemic now in the Fryingpan Valley, many fear that the forests will soon be full of dead trees, creating tremendous fuel for wildfire. With Wilderness designation there will be no access to remove those trees for any use, and fighting the inevitable fires will not be allowed. If such a fire starts, residents in the Fryingpan area could be trapped in the fire area which cannot be fought or controlled. For most of the year there is only one way in and out of our valley.

The forests need to be managed, and Wilderness designation prohibits anything being done to aid the forest health, such as thinning of trees, harvesting dead stands of trees, prescribing burns for fuel management, managing insect infestations, actively managing watersheds, actively managing recreational uses, etc. Wilderness designation ties the hands of land managers and prevents them from managing for forest environments that are healthy and sustainable. We support the wisdom and management of the Forest Service and fear that the USFS cannot adequately maintain the forest without mechanized tools.

Small businesses in the area, such as outfitters, guides and ranchers with grazing permits, will have their business negatively impacted if this proposal goes through. They will not be able to use chainsaws to clear trails, cut firewood and maintain their permitted areas. Responsible hunting, fishing and camping are important in our valley.

This proposal will eliminate many areas enjoyed by snowmobilers in the Fryingpan area. The areas open for public enjoyment have already been reduced by Wilderness areas and private property. Let’s remember that responsible snowmobiling, jeeping, biking and motorcycle riding is just as valid and honorable as hiking and horseback riding.

The proposal would eliminate access to this beautiful area for older people and the disabled who cannot hike the areas because it would lock out all mechanized vehicles. Those folks have as much right to use the forest as the young able-bodied hikers.

We feel there should be a way for all to enjoy the forests. It is not appropriate to lock out certain portions of the population to keep the areas open only to a few.

We feel the Hidden Gems project should be broken down and studied in smaller areas. It is currently so large and includes such diverse areas that it is impossible to consider it all together. It seems to many that the proponents are trying to take too much without considering each part carefully. Let’s remember that Wilderness designation is forever.

We wish to keep the forest accessible to all people, not just those on foot or horseback. We want to keep our beautiful Fryingpan Valley safer from fire and open to all recreational users. Therefore, we oppose the Hidden Gems Wilderness Area proposal.

Officers and board

Dale Coombs, chairman


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