Colorado's San Juan Mountains would gain protection under new proposal

Visitors to Southwest Colorado likely arrive expecting snowy mountain peaks and thick, spruce-fir groves under clear skies, world-class hiking, and clear air and water. A newly introduced bill would help preserve these quintessential sights and values in the San Juan Mountains, serving a wide range of local interests.

Introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act would protect about 60,000 acres of public land as wilderness or under other protected status in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties. It would also protect areas that are popular for heli-skiing and mountain biking, as well as critical wildlife habitat, watersheds, and cultural resources.

The legislation would expand the existing Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head wilderness areas; establish the McKenna Peak Wilderness in western San Miguel County; create the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area along the alpine ridge between San Miguel and San Juan Counties and the Liberty Bell East Special Management Area near the Town of Telluride; and protect Naturita Canyon near Norwood from mining and oil and gas development.

Map showing areas proposed for new protections under the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act 

The San Juan Mountains region is renowned for camping, backpacking and big-game hunting alike and harbors a vital watershed providing clean water to the surrounding communities. It's no wonder Sen. Bennet's proposal is backed by everyone from ranchers to county commissioners to the mayors of nearby towns, a major show of grassroots support at a time when many public lands are acutely at risk.

Stay tuned for more on this important proposal and see below for a small taste of why the San Juan Mountains deserve permanent protection.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS)

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS)

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS)

Credit: Jon Mullen

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS)