Last week Goodtimes and White were in the process of drumming up support for a plan to extend the wilderness areas near Mount Sneffels, Lizard Head, Sheep Mountain and to propose entirely new wilderness areas for McKenna Peak and Naturita Canyon. If all were approved, a big if for the latter, but a strong possibility for the rest, it would add 100,000 acres of protected wilderness areas to San Miguel County.
“Everything looks like a go except for Naturita Canyon,” said Goodtimes, who met with Colorado Congressman John Salazar for lunch at the National Democratic Club in Washington D.C. “John is really sympathetic. The Salazars [Congressman John and Sen. Ken Salazar] are doing a great job, and when we meet with them, politically, we are friends. We just don’t shake hands. We give bear hugs.”
That kind of insider backslapping aside, the three-day blitz into the halls of the House and the Senate, meeting with a variety of aides and staffers for various committee members, proved to be productive for Telluride’s political pair. In return for their efforts, and those who put together the research for plan, including members of the SMA, the proposal is hoped to fly smoothly through this congressional session.
“The real thing politics is getting to know the aides,” Goodtimes said. “Politics is a game of personal relationships.”
The areas in the proposal include extending the Mount Sneffels wilderness area by 8,800 acres, which involves the Liberty Bell and Last Dollar areas. Running from the west side of Marshall Basin and around Whipple Mountain, the headwaters of many of the creeks north of Telluride would be included: Deep, Alder, Eider, Mill and Cornet Creeks.
The Lizard Head Wilderness Area would be extended by 3,000 acres, including a portion of Silver Pick Basin, Sunshine Mesa, areas adjacent to and above the community of San Bernardo and Lizard Head Pass.
While all of the proposed areas would protect wildlife habitat and migration corridors, the Sheep Mountain “potential wilderness area,” adding another 12,000 acres, and the Lizard Head area would both protect the Canadian Lynx habitats, White said earlier last month.
“The Mount Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness Areas,” White stated in a letter to the Telluride Town Council before its unanimous endorsement of the plan, “are considered core reserves; protected areas that are ecologically viable and function in their natural state. The Sheep Mountain Area is considered important for its connectivity function. Conservation biology points to the need for core reserves that are large in size and diverse in habitat.
“Science demonstrates that a larger core reserve is likely to sustain more habitats and species than smaller ones. Climate change science predicts that as the earth warms, northern wildlife migrations will be necessary for survival. Wilderness protection groups are calling for the importance of establishing larger protected core reserves and migration corridors.
“In addition, protection of tributaries to the San Miguel River is important because the San Miguel River is free of major dams and diversions, making it one of the three major river systems left in Colorado where natural hydrological processes are intact.”
More problematic parts of the proposal, for the 11,000 acre Naturita Canyon site, and the 30,000 acre McKenna Peak wilderness, may have a tougher chance to get approved, she said, due to water rights issues for the former and potential conflicts with the BLM over the latter.
However, after meeting with officials, Goodtimes said, “McKenna Peak looks good.”
The opportunity for the bill was realized as other preservation partners were lobbying for additional wilderness areas for Rocky Mountain National Park and areas of the Dominguez Canyon/Escalante region north of Delta.
“We proposed the San Miguel County wilderness areas, and we got real good feedback,” Goodtimes said.
However, the Naturita Canyon remains to be a portion of proposal that has problems, he said, because more research needs to be done, as well as networking with all parties around Wrights Mesa and within the canyon with an interest in water rights.
“We need to get with the Norwood Board of Appeals to make sure it’s an area that’s appropriate,” Goodtimes said. “We want to work with the local people to make sure we won’t pre-empt their water rights.”