Conservationists Praise Salazar's San Juan Mountains Bill

Jan 21, 2010

Proposal Praised for Broad Support and Inclusive Process at Congressional Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Salazar (D-CO3) was praised today for his efforts to protect wilderness and wild lands in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Salazar’s legislation, San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2009, was praised at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee for protecting some of the region's most spectacular places and for addressing the feedback and gaining widespread support of stakeholders from throughout the region.

“Today's hearing is the culmination of two years of hard work and collaboration by folks throughout southwest Colorado,” said Jeff Widen, Associate Director for Conservation Designations at The Wilderness Society, who testified in support of the legislation 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.”

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.

“This 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 today’s hearing. “I hope committee members at the hearing and throughout Congress will recognize the complete and thorough job Congressman Salazar and his staff have done to ensure that this is a broadly supported bill. It shows what can happen when we all come together to preserve some of our region's most spectacular places.”

From livestock managers to heli-skiing operators, from private landowners to motorized and non-motorized recreationists, Congressman Salazar and his staff sought input from everyone potentially affected by the legislation. In addition to the three local counties (Ouray, San Miguel and San Juan), support for the bill was received from the Towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Norwood, Ridgway, and Ouray, as well as the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce and the Telluride Tourism Bureau. Ranchers, homeowners associations, mountain bikers, conservation groups, and outfitters, as well as many local residents of the area endorsed the proposal.

“The San Juan Mountains legislation is a great example of how our communities can come together around a common goal,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River Campaign Coordinator for San Juan Citizens. Ms. Kelley, who was also in Washington for the hearing continued, “The San Juan Mountains are why so many of us choose to call southwest Colorado home and it's exciting to know that these special places will be protected for generations to come. I hope Congress will act quickly to pass this bill.”

“Wilderness and wild lands are a vital part of our economic future and our way-of-life,” said Widen. “It’s important that we take steps today to ensure both of these and Congressman Salazar's legislation does just that. We hope everyone will support this legislation and move it quickly through the process.”

More Background / Download Testimony

Testimony presented by Jeff Widen to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. The hearing occurred on January 21st, 2010. Jeff Widen is Conservation Designations Associate Director at The Wilderness Society. Highlights and key points of the testimony include...

  • The San Juan Mountains offer some of the best ice climbing in the United States.
  • There is no formal opposition to the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act as of this date.
  • Lizard Head, in the Wilderness of the same name, is considered one of the most difficult technical summits in the Rocky Mountains.
  • The unanimous endorsement of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness bill from the San Juan County Commission, included the support of a long-time hard rock mining advocate, and a dedicated off-road vehicle supporter.
  • San Juan Commissioner Ernie Kohlman, at the public meeting on the bill, said – “I support mining. I hope mining comes back to San Juan County. But for now, we have recreation and tourism, and I think we need to support this thing.”
  • The San Miguel River, with it’s headwaters in the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, is one of the best unknown whitewater boating runs in the State.
  • This legislation will – for the first time – put ALL of Mt Sneffels in the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness – the current wilderness boundary only includes the western half of the peak.
  • The Colorado Snowmobile Association told Congressman Salazar’s office that he did a good job putting the San Juan bill together.
  • Supporters of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness bill include the Hard Rock 100 Footrace, Telluride Helitrax heli-skiing, the San Miguel County Sheriff, a local off-road vehicle columnist, and the mountain biking community in Telluride.
  • McKenna Peak is actually not the main topographic feature in the proposed McKenna Peak Wilderness – a spectacular band of high cliffs is taller and much more prominent.
  • The peaks making up the heart of the proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area - Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and Sheep Mountain – are some of the most accessible and enjoyable peak-bagging objectives in the San Juans.