The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, would designate 33,000 acres as wilderness – mostly as expansions of the existing Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels wilderness areas – as well as establish a new area called McKenna Peak. The bill would also designate about 22,000 acres as a special management area that withdraws over 6,000 acres of land within Naturita Canyon from mineral entry.
Altogether, the bill would preserve more than 61,000 acres of land in a region that includes two peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation and the sole water supply of the town of Ridgway.
Udall and Bennet previously introduced the bill in 2009, with former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, describing it as reflective of an extensive collaboration, spanning a period of several years, between local leaders and interested stakeholders. Outdoor recreation groups, conservation groups and local governments all support the bill, and believe it will bolster the area’s tourism economy.
“This is how wilderness can and should be done,” Udall said in a statement released to The Watch. “I'm proud to fight for this incredibly special part of our state. Not only will this bill ensure generations of Coloradans will be able to enjoy its stunning beauty, but it will also help create jobs and boost the economy of the entire area.”
“I was really happy to see this come out in the Senate,” San Miguel County Commissioner Joan May said on Tuesday. “I think it will take a real effort to get it passed through the House, but I hope people can see the big picture in this bill. Anyone who looks at this bill carefully will see how beneficial this will be to the livelihood of this area. This bill has been worked on for so long, and by so many people, and has broad support, from ranchers to wilderness advocates.”
That support includes a host of elected officials, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservation groups, outfitters, local residents, a heli-skiing operator, private landowners, and motorized and non-motorized recreationists. Along with San Miguel County, both Ouray, and San Juan counties support the legislation, as do the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Norwood, Ridgway, and Ouray, as well as the Ridgway Area and Telluride chambers of commerce.
“I am grateful to see Senator Udall taking action that represents so much of our local grassroots efforts,” said San Juan County Commissioner Pete McCay. “The Senator recognizes that our wild and scenic areas are essential for tourism, our main economic engine.”
“The town of Ouray and the county are a year-round destination for people who want to enjoy the outdoors. These visitors are a key part of our current economy and our future and it’s great to see Sen. Udall taking steps to ensure our regions economic future with this legislation,” said Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett. “We live in a special place, and I think we can all agree that we would like to see this special place protected and continue to thrive. That starts with ensuring the future of our remaining wildlands. Hats off to Senator Udall for the courage and vision to move this legislation forward.”
Those who have input or questions about the bill or maps of the proposed wilderness areas are encouraged to share their comments. An easy-to-fill-out contact form is available on the website along with maps of the proposed wilderness at HYPERLINK "http://ct.symplicity.com/t/muv/52fcc4b3d298b8f01df1bbe73a667f4b/789283250/realurl=http://markudall.senate.gov/?p=form&id=37"http://markudall.senate.gov/sanjuan/.U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton will hold a “listening” session on the proposed bill at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at the Ouray Community Center.