Sen. Mark Udall (D. Colo.) hit on both economic and ideological themes as he spoke to his colleagues at a Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee hearing on Thursday, March 22, about the merits of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (S.1635). The bill, introduced by Udall last September, seeks to preserve a 61,000-acre patchwork of public lands in and around the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.
In his short four-minute speech, Udall referred to wilderness as an “economic engine” that helps create jobs and promote recreational opportunities in Colorado, while stressing that as Colorado’s population grows, “we need to be proactive so that future generations can experience the beauty, clean air and water, and wildlife that we have today.”
Udall also highlighted S.1635’s grass-roots origins and the fact that it enjoys broad support from businesses, counties, municipalities and other entities throughout the three-county region that the bill encompasses.
“This bill reflects extensive collaboration done over several years with local leaders and interested stakeholders,” Udall stated.
Udall did not touch on the continuing opposition that that the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act has engendered locally in the mining community and among others who are ideologically opposed to wilderness expansion, since the bill was first introduced by Rep. John Salazar in 2009.
The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, as Udall introduced it last September, designates 33,000 additional acres in the San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties as wilderness – both through expansions of the existing Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels wilderness areas, and by the creation of a new area called McKenna Peak in a cliffy, arid portion of western San Miguel County. It would also protect 28,000 acres on Sheep Mountain and Naturita Canyon with other special designations that would withdraw them from mineral entry while still allowing certain other uses, including, in the case of the proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area, heli-skiing and the Hardrock 100 ultra-run.
The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Michael Bennet (D. Colo.). U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R. Colo.) has so far declined to introduce companion legislation to the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act in the House.
Last Thursday’s subcommittee hearing, at which there was no discussion, was one small step in the long process of determining the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act’s fate.
If the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee, of which Udall is a member, decides to report the bill back to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) for approval, it may first make changes and amendments in a process called “Mark Up.”
From there, the full ENR committee may then conduct its own review, before passing the bill out of committee and putting it on the legislative calendar for floor action in the Senate, likely as part of a larger omnibus bill. If that bill survives a vote in the Senate, it will then undergo referral to the House, which in turn could decide to approve, reject, ignore or amend the bill.
Each step of the process is fraught with potentially fatal hurdles. However, Udall “is going to keep pushing for it,” Udall D.C. staffer Alex McCarthy said. “Hearings like this are very important. We’re really excited to get it one more step forward.”
To view a video of Sen. Udall’s full testimony, visit this link:
S. 1635 was one of five wilderness and land conservation bills heard in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests on Thursday, March 22. Others include…
One of Five Wilderness and Land Conservation Bills on the Floor
S. 1635 was one of five wilderness and land conservation bills heard in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests on Thursday, March 22.
- The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (S. 1774): Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the Act would add 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas, and would establish a 208,000-acre Conservation Area in the heart of the Rocky Mountain Front (the eastern edge of the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in the northern Rockies).
- The San Juan Islands National Conservation Act (S. 1559): Sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and co- sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Act would provide protection for nearly 1,000 acres of small islands, rocks and reef, headlands, historic lighthouses, and other areas in the San Juan Islands of Washington.
- The Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 1788): Introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and co-sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the Act would establish 26,000 acres of wilderness in the northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range.
- The Rogue Wilderness Area Expansion Act (S. 2001): Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, this legislation would add 58,000 acres to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, while establishing dozens of miles of wild and scenic rivers and adding protection to many Rogue River tributaries (a significant Oregon salmon fishery).
In all, there are 23 wilderness bills pending in the 112th Congress.