Officials from San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray Counties commended Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for re-introducing the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act. Local and national conservation organizations also celebrated the bill’s reintroduction, pointing out that it comes in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act, created in 1964.
After years of negotiations and work with local stakeholders, the legislation would expand the existing Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness Areas, establish the McKenna Peak Wilderness in western San Miguel County, create the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area along the alpine ridge between San Miguel and San Juan Counties, and prohibit oil and gas development in Naturita Canyon near Norwood.
"We applaud Senator Udall and Bennet’s ongoing sponsorship of the San Juan Mountain’s Wilderness Act and appreciate their strong understanding of the ecological and economical importance of preserving our public lands” said Joan May, San Miguel County Commissioner. “We appreciate the Senator’s desire to listen to their constituents and then follow through with action to implement our priorities, including protecting some of the most ecologically valuable lands in Southwest Colorado."
A broad base of support remains high for the legislation and includes elected officials, region business owners, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservation groups, outfitters, local residents, a heli-skiing operator, private landowners, and motorized and non-motorized recreationists. San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan Counties support the legislation, in addition to the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Norwood, Ridgway, and Ouray, as well as the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce and Telluride Visitor Services.
The 2013 Conservation in the West Poll just release from Colorado College found that “Personal connection and perceived benefits of public lands permeates attitudes in the West [and] drives desire to hold onto and safeguard protected lands in [Colorado]” and that a “solid majority of [Coloradoans] want environmentally sensitive public lands to be ‘permanently protected’”.
Over three years in the making, multiple groups worked together to make sure all stakeholders were heard during the citizen initiated process. Conservation groups and lawmakers met with all user groups and adjacent landowners of the areas, found compromise and developed a proposal that has a broad range of support from the entire region.
"I am pleased to hear that Senators Udall and Bennet have introduced the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. The Senators recognizes how important these special places are to the economic prosperity of Southwest Colorado." Said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.
“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 its great to see Senators Udall and Bennet taking steps to ensure our region’s economic future with this legislation,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray County Commissioner. “Hats off to the Senators for the courage and vision to move this legislation forward.”
"Senator Udall believes, along with the majority of Colorado residents, in the vital importance of preserving our remaining wild lands and we are eager to see this incredible area in Southwest Colorado move closer to protection” said Hilary White, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “There is strong regional support to see the clean air and clean water resources in these areas protected and we hope there will be support in Congress as well."
“San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act exemplifies a grassroots proposal built from the ground up with compromise and collaboration.” Said Jeff Widen, conservation designations associate director of the Wilderness Support Center The Wilderness Society. “In reintroducing this bill, Senators Udall and Bennet highlight that land preservation and our outdoor recreation economy are driving economic forces in Colorado.”
The supporters will continue to work with elected officials and people on the ground to ensure that this bipartisan legislation becomes law this year.
Sheep Mountain Alliance is a grassroots citizen organization dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment in the Telluride Region and Southwest Colorado. Sheep Mountain Alliance provides education for and protection of regional ecosystems, wildlife habitats and watersheds. www.sheepmountainalliance.org
The Wilderness Society is the leading public-lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org