Wilderness bill protects parts of Rocky Mountain National Park

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The U.S. Senate, in a bipartisan 73-21 vote, moved Thursday to preserve 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness areas — including 315,000 acres in Colorado.

Among the areas in the largest expansion of the country's wilderness lands in 15 years are parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez and Escalante canyons.

"This confers the highest level of protection on these lands," said Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society.

"Everyone thinks it's a national park so it's protected, but this will keep 250,000 acres as untouched wilderness," Smith said.

The bill, which goes to the House of Representatives for a final vote, also creates a 210,000-acre national conservation area around Escalante and Dominguez canyons south of Grand Junction, including a 65,000-acre wilderness area.