The Campaign for America's Wilderness at the Pew Environment Group applauded the introduction last night of legislation to protect nearly 166,000 acres of pristine wild lands, including 81,790 acres of wilderness, on the White River National Forest and surrounding Bureau of Land Management areas in Colorado's Summit and Eagle Counties.
The bill, introduced by Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), comes on the heels of a multi-year effort by a coalition of local, state and national conservation groups to secure wilderness designation for special wild places in the Central Colorado Rockies.
Working as the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, the coalition reached out to a wide variety of stakeholders, including public agencies, industry representatives, private landowners, elected officials, ranchers and recreation groups, and—based on their feedback—developed a proposal that it presented to the Colorado congressional delegation this spring. At that time, Congressman Polis began his own vetting process, which included hosting three public meetings within his district to solicit input on the proposal. Based on these discussions, Rep. Polis crafted the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act.
“Rep. Polis listened to the public and the many stakeholders engaged in the process and kept the diverse interests at the negotiating table,” said Marcia Argust, policy manager with the Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness. “We are pleased that the resulting bill protects core elements and areas of the Hidden Gems proposal.”
Outreach and education led to the partial or full endorsement of groups representing rock and mountain climbers and ranchers. Summit County firefighters and water district managers signed off on the proposal, noting that conservationists worked hard to address their concerns. The proposal was also endorsed by outfitters, fly fishing shops, rafting and guiding companies, and a variety of other businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“These organizations recognize that protecting wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties is a good way to sustain the resource that sustains their bottom line,” Argust said.
The wilderness areas designated by Rep. Polis' bill—including Bull Gulch, Spraddle Creek and Hoosier Ridge—will protect mid-elevation lands in Colorado and increase the area where wildlife can range. Federally protected wilderness areas ensure landscapes are managed at the highest standards for natural and wild public lands, protecting clean drinking water, providing world-class hunting, fishing and backcountry opportunities, and safeguarding a natural—and national—American legacy.