Hidden Gems to split in strategic move | AspenTimes.com

Hidden Gems to split in strategic move

A portion of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign’s proposal will be turned over to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the next “two or three weeks,” Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker said Thursday.

Proponents of the Wilderness plan will split their proposal in order to get something in the hands of Polis this month, Shoemaker said. Polis and his staff will then determine if he will sponsor a bill to add the Wilderness.

The split may be temporary or permanent. The Hidden Gems proponents also want lands in Pitkin County and other areas given maximum protection. But that part of the plan isn’t “ripe” yet, Shoemaker said. When it is, a proposal will be submitted to U.S. Rep. John Salazar because the additional lands are in his 5th Congressional District.

It’s too speculative to tell if separate bills will be introduced or if they are consolidated, Shoemaker said. “It’s out of our hands” once plans are turned over to congressmen, he said.

The coalition of conservation groups in the Hidden Gems campaign are proposing Wilderness for 379,600 acres in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison, Summit and Rio Blanco counties.

Issues have been largely hashed out with forest user groups in Eagle and Summit counties, Shoemaker said. It’s not a “wrap” but close, he said. About 64 percent of the lands in the Hidden Gems proposal are in those counties.

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Polis represents the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Eagle and Summit counties. Once the Hidden Gems players are convinced they have done as much work as possible to resolve conflicts on lands in his district, they might as well turn over the proposal for his assessment, Shoemaker said.

As it stands, Hidden Gems proposes to add 198,600 acres of Wilderness in Eagle County and 46,000 in Summit County.

Another 60,800 acres are being eyed in Pitkin County; 2,300 acres in Garfield County; 70,900 acres in Gunnison County; and 900 acres in Rio Blanco County.

In theory, Polis could introduce a bill to designate the lands in Eagle and Summit as Wilderness while talks remain under way on the other component.

“Yeah, of course we could live with that,” Shoemaker said. The proponents “love Wilderness” and support any effort that adds the designation to appropriate lands, he said.

Lara Cottingham, communications director for Polis, said the congressman will welcome a proposal from Hidden Gems whenever the organization feels it is ready for review. Polis doesn’t want to dictate the timing, she said.

Consensus among various parties interested in the status of public lands is “something we would be looking for,” Cottingham said.

Shoemaker said there is still a significant amount of negotiating to do with stakeholder groups in Pitkin County and surrounding areas, where talks between user groups have sometimes been contentious. There is no deadline for preparing a proposal.

Salazar is already working on a Wilderness bill for land in the San Juan Mountains, and he has indicated that will get his focus before he introduces another Wilderness bill, Shoemaker said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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