Peak & Prairie
April / May 1999
Wilderness Bill Receives Warm Welcome
OVER 100 LOCAL GOVERNMENT GROUPS, BUSINESSES, RECREATION AND CONSERVATION ORGANIZATIONS APPLAUDED REP. DIANA DEGETTES (D-CO) ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW WILDERNESS LEGISLATIONTHE COLORADO WILDERNESS ACT OF 1999THAT WOULD PROTECT 1.4 MILLION ACRES OF COLORADOS CANYON COUNTRY, MOST OF WHICH IS LOCATED ON THE WESTERN SLOPE.
DeGettes bill embodies the "Citizens Wilderness Proposal," promoted by citizen groups since 1994, which recommends wilderness protection for roughly 1.1 million acres of rugged wildlands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and another 300,000 acres of adjacent Forest Service lands. The Congresswoman will introduce the bill when Congress reconvenes. "Protected public lands are a major asset to my county; thats why we endorsed the Citizens Wilderness Proposal and why we support DeGettes bill," said Art Goodtimes, a San Miguel County Commissioner. San Miguel and Pitkin Counties, along with the Denver City Council, have endorsed the Citizens Wilderness Proposal.
Conservation groups such as the Colorado Wildlife Federation also endorse the wilderness proposal. "Wilderness, wildlife and hunting are a natural combination," explained Pete Michaelson, a long-time hunter and former chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. "Wilderness protects pristine fish and wildlife habitat, and ensures that anyoneeven those unable to pay to hunt on private landwill have a place for hunting and fishing in the future."
Hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching activities in Colorado generate $2.6 billion annually, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Conservationists have been advocating protection of these lands for years, a sentiment shared by a majority of Coloradans. A poll of Colorado registered voters conducted by Talmey-Drake in 1997 found overwhelming support for the Citizens Wilderness Proposal, with 80 per-cent of respondents supporting wilderness protection.
"Coloradans want to make sure there are places where they can take the kids, get out on the land, and maybe see a bobcat drinking from a stream or a golden eagle sailing in the sky," pointed out Susan Tixier, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
"This is an historic moment, marking the beginning of a bold campaign to pre-serve Colorados canyon country legacy virtually none of which is currently protected, remarked Suzanne Jones, Assistant Regional Director of The Wilderness Society. "With sprawl and growth threatening . . . it has never been more important to save the last of Colorados unprotected wild places. We commend Congresswoman DeGette for her leader-ship and hope that the rest of Colorados delegation will support this bill."
The 1.4 million-acre bill affects just two percent of the entire Colorado land base. It leaves 85 percent of the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management open to oil and gas drilling, mining, off-road vehicle use and other development activities. Protected in the legislation will be 49 areas, including such spectacular places as the verdant Castle Peak, home to black bear, elk and beaver; the magnificent Delores River Canyon, where hundreds of rafters and canoeists come to recreate each year; and the wild and vast.
Vermillion Basin, containing ancient petroglyphs and stunning rock formations. The Colorado Wilderness Network is a coalition made up of over 100 local government, business, recreation and conservation organizations committed to the protection of 1.4 million acres of Colorados spectacular canyon country. Representatives of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, Lighthawk, Sierra Club, Western Colorado Congress and The Wilderness Society serve on the Networks Steering Committee.