San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill receives Congressional Hearing

San Juan Mountains. Photo by Michael Buck, Courtesy Flickr.

Congressman John Salazar, D-Colo., was highly praised Jan. 21 at a House Natural Resource Committee hearing for his efforts to protect wilderness areas in southwest Colorado’s snow-capped San Juan Mountains.

The proposed legislation, supported by The Wilderness Society and known as the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2009, would protect more than 60,000 acres of public lands within Colorado’s Ouray, San Miguel and San Juan counties, where majestic mountain peaks and outdoor recreation are the backbone of the area’s tourist economy.

The bill has received widespread support from Coloradans.

“Wilderness and wild lands are a vital part of our economic future and our way of life” said Jeff Widen, The Wilderness Society’s Associate Director for Conservation Designations, who testified in support of the Act at the hearing. “The broad and overwhelming local support for this legislation is the result of tireless work by Congressman Salazar and his staff. I hope Congress will recognize this and work quickly to pass this bill.” Read Widen’s testimony here.

The bill itself seeks to expand the existing Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness areas with over 8,500 acres of lands designated as the new McKenna Peak Wilderness. Other designations will include the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area, while oil and gas development will be withdrawn from the Naturita Canyon.

One of the major highlights in the crafting of this legislation has been the broad support it has received from conservation groups, homeowners associations, mountain bikers and the local communities themselves.

“The legislation has the support of all three local county governments as well as a diverse coalition of local stakeholders” said Hilary White, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, who also attended the hearing. This was echoed by Amber Kelley, Dolores River Campaign Coordinator for San Juan Citizens who indicated “The San Juan Mountains legislation is a great example of how our communities can come together around a common goal”.

Congressman Salazar’s continued determination to ensure protection for Colorado’s most treasured wild lands sends out a strong signal of the importance of these areas for our social and economic well-being. “We hope everyone will support this legislation and move it quickly through the process” said Widen, as the bill is now enters a period of discussion within the House.

photo: San Juan Mountains. Photo by Michael Buck, Courtesy Flickr.