On the heels of recent congressional approval of the first wilderness bill in five years, local leaders from southwest Colorado today commended a congressional committee for considering legislation that would protect the entire Hermosa Creek watershed, which provides high-quality water to Durango and the surrounding area.
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 1839) is a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats. The bill would protect approximately 108,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed north of Durango. It would designate 70,000 acres as a special management area and about 37,000 acres as wilderness. The bill allows all current uses for the land to continue including hunting, fishing, back packing, and snowmobiling.
Local rancher and small business owner Ed Zink said all the stakeholders in the process will benefit from the legislation. “Everyone agrees about protecting the water. The water has many valuable recreation benefits as well as irrigation and domestic uses.”
Earlier this week, Congress approved a bill to designate land as wilderness for the first time in five years. The House of Representatives approved the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act, which protects 32,557 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan. The Senate passed the legislation last year and President Obama is expected to sign the bill.
“There are many wilderness and public lands bills with strong, local, bipartisan support that are languishing in Congress,” says Jeff Widen, senior regional conservation representative for The Wilderness Society. “Wilderness and conservation bills -- like the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Hermosa Creek – can provide tremendous economic and conservation benefits to the local community and we will work closely with Congress on these important bills. Hermosa Creek represents a truly consensus-driven process among a wide variety of interests.”
Scott Fetchenhier, County Commissioner for San Juan County, Co., said, “The Hermosa Creek bill has support from ranchers, mountain bikers, environmentalists, snowmobilers – everybody in the community. It was a great team effort.”
Supporters of the bill include the Durango City Council, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, more than 100 business leaders in San Juan and La Plata counties, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, and the Durango office of The Wilderness Society.
“La Plata County is really pleased with the legislation,” said Gwen Lachelt, a Commissioner for La Plata County. “It’s community-owned and developed legislation. Wilderness is great for our economy and we are pleased with the consensus approach of this bill.”
Zink, Fetchenhier and Lachelt were all in Washington today to express their support for the bill and attend the hearing held by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.
In Colorado, outdoor recreation generates $13.2 billion in consumer spending annually and is responsible for 125,000 jobs. The bill was informed and shaped by community discussions held by the Hermosa Creek Workgroup over nearly three years of research and negotiations representing a broad array of local stakeholders and interests. This included water officials, small business owners, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, and conservationists.