San Juan Wilderness Bill receives hearing in Senate Subcommittee

Mar 22, 2012

Legislation has received praise from county commissioners, conservationists and local citizens
 

Local officials and other stakeholders commended Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for moving the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act forward in the U.S. Senate.

The Senators re-introduced the Act in September during the 112th Congress. The re-introduction came after years of negotiations and work with local stakeholders.

The Act would protect over 61,000 acres of southern Colorado wildlands, including the designation of 33,000 acres of Wilderness. The legislation would protect the heart of the San Juan Mountains, including cool, azure blue lakes, jagged peaks, lush old growth spruce and fir forests, meadows laden with wildflowers, and golden groves of aspen.  The bill has tremendous community support from local elected officials, conservation and recreation organizations, and businesses.

“This bill is the result of a bottom-up, homegrown effort led by locals,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray County Commissioner. “Passage of this bill will provide significant community, recreational and economic benefits for Ouray County and the northern San Juan Mountain region.”

Support has continued to grow for the legislation and includes elected officials, 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, Ridgway and Ouray, as well as the Ridgway Area and Telluride Tourism Agencies.

“The hearing today is a step forward for the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act,” said Jeff Widen, of The Wilderness Society in Durango.  “Senators Udall and Bennet have shown great leadership in working to protect what is important to all Coloradoans and we hope Congress follows their lead and passes the legislation this year.”

Recreation and tourism is critical to Southwest Colorado and the state. Outdoor recreation supports more than 107,000 jobs and contributes $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy.

Additionally, recent polls and studies have shown that conservation is a win-win for America’s economy and environment.  In a recent Colorado College poll, 78 percent of voters across Colorado said that “we can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time.” The same survey found that 93 percent of voters agreed that “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of your state’s economy.”

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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