Colorado and other Wilderness legislation gain momentum in Washington

San Juan Moutains Wilderness Act Hearing.

Colorado’s San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, a bill that would protect some of the state’s wildest lands in southwest Colorado, made great strides in the U.S. House of Representatives today. At the same time, bills that would protect special lands in Idaho and South Dakota also made progress in the Senate.

The San Juan Mountains bill would protect 52,000 acres in southwest Colorado’s snow-capped San Juans. Today, after years of work from local groups and The Wilderness Society, the bill passed through the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate will mark-up its own version of the bill soon.

The legislation would protect the San Juan Mountains’ snowy ridges that host outstanding wildlife. The San Juan Mountains serve as an important watershed, providing clean water and healthy air to the surrounding communities. People travel to San Juan Mountains for its excellent camping, backpacking and big game hunting opportunities. The legislation would expand the existing Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness areas, establish the McKenna Peak Wilderness, 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.

The Wilderness Society worked closely with local stakeholders — such as ranchers and land owners, local and federal government officials, recreation enthusiasts and the Sheep Mountain Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Ridgeway-Ouray Community Council, and Silverton Mountain School — to advocate for this Wilderness protection.

One of the highlights of this legislation, introduced by Colorado Rep. John Salazar, is that it enjoys broad support from three local counties, in addition to several towns bordering the mountain range.

Protections for Idaho, South Dakota move forward

Meanwhile on the Senate side of the Capitol, Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds or the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) moved one step closer to permanent protection. The Wilderness Society has been working closely with local groups to build a ship that will hold everyone’s needs.

The legislation was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Simpson, and introduced in the Senate by Sens. Crapo and Risch. It would designate 330,000 acres of wilderness in three separate wilderness areas: White Cloud Wilderness, Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, and Jerry Peak Wilderness.

Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota.The same Senate subcommittee also considered protection for the South Dakota Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, or the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act. The Grasslands are characterized by unique plant and wildlife and offers hikers, horseback riders, hunters, and birdwatchers, a diverse wilderness experience. The Wilderness Society strongly supports this landmark legislation, as it is the first that would designate Wilderness Areas in our National Grasslands.

Introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson, the legislation would protect 50,000 acres as Wilderness, including Indian Creek, Red Shirt and Chalk Hills. The Wilderness Society worked closely with local partners — such as the South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition, ranchers, hunters, and South Dakotans from all walks of life — to move this treasured land closer to permanent protection.

As we begin to get outdoors during the summer months, we can enjoy all that our public lands have to offer. We here at The Wilderness Society hope to see all of these important bills enacted this year.

San Juan Moutains Wilderness Act Hearing.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota.