Polis wilderness bills doesn’t include lands in Aspen, Roaring Fork Valley
The Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal that created such a fuss from 2006 through 2010 hasn’t gained traction in Congress, but U.S. Rep. Jared Polis has introduced what could be considered Hidden Gems Lite.
Polis introduced the Rocky Mountain Recreation and Wilderness Preservation Act in Breckenridge on Sunday at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Polis’ bill eyes protections for 60,000 acres in Summit and eastern Eagle counties. No lands in the Roaring Fork Valley were included. Polis focused within the boundaries of his district.
Polis’ bill would create 40,000 acres of new or expanded wilderness. Another 20,000 acres would be recreation management areas that would allow mountain-bike and snowmobile use but prohibit most other motorized and mechanized uses.
The Hidden Gems proposal crafted by Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop and other conservation groups in 2010 called for wilderness protection for about 379,000 acres in Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Gunnison counties.
“There’s some overlap,” said Will Roush, conservation director for Wilderness Workshop. “From the Polis side, it’s quite a bit different.”
The conservation groups didn’t contemplate the recreation management areas, which don’t provide as much protection as wilderness, he said. Nevertheless, Wilderness Workshop is already promoting Boulder Democrat Polis’ bill. It sent a blast email to members Monday asking them to support the bill.
The bill faces an uphill battle. Congress hasn’t approved additional wilderness in Colorado since 2009.
A conservation coalition working for wilderness designation in the central Colorado mountains hopes that U.S. Sen. Mark Udall includes lands in Pitkin, western Eagle and Gunnison counties in a bill he intends to introduce in 2015. Udall is facing a tough reelection challenge this fall.
Roush said Wilderness Workshop and its allies haven’t tried to work with the congressman for the Roaring Fork Valley, Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, on a wilderness bill.
Roush said it isn’t uncommon for wilderness advocates to do extensive work on a proposal and then see proposed boundaries get adjusted by sponsors in Congress.
“They want to make it their own, their legacy, their initiative,” he said.
Roush said it is too soon to define the Hidden Gems effort as a success or failure.
“To a certain extent, it remains to be seen,” he said. “We don’t have a wilderness bill (approved) yet, but these things take time.”
Karin Teague, president of Wilderness Workshop’s board of directors, said the organization is “pleased” with the Polis bill.
“It includes a good chunk of land we’ve been advocating,” she said.
Any proposal for additional wilderness in the central mountains is welcomed, she said, and Wilderness Workshop will “now be out there beating the drums” for Polis’ bill and, potentially, Udall’s bill.
Roush and Teague said Wilderness Workshop doesn’t use the name Hidden Gems much anymore. It adopts the names the bill sponsors use.
Hidden Gems became a label that inflamed opponents of additional wilderness lands, particularly motorized-vehicle users who contend they are getting hit with too many restrictions on federal lands. Mountain bikers also had squabbles with portions of the Hidden Gems proposal.
A sticker with the words “Hidden Gems” and the universal red “no” symbol is still a common sight on vehicles in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Teague and Roush said Wilderness Workshop remains committed to the mission of advocating for wilderness by whatever name.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.