Bill would protect lands in San Miguel and San Juan counties
Officials from San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray Counties commended Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for re-introducing the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. Local and national conservation organizations also celebrated the bill’s reintroduction, pointing out that it comes during the heart of National Wilderness Month and following National Public Lands Day.
After years of negotiations and work with local stakeholders, 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 prohibit oil and gas development in Naturita Canyon near Norwood.
"Three cheers to Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet for working with people on the ground to reintroduce this bill during the 112th Congress,” said Joan May, San Miguel County Commissioner. “The places this bill protects are some of the most ecologically valuable lands in Southwest Colorado and we look forward to this becoming law."
Support has continued to grow for the legislation and includes elected officials, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservation groups, outfitters, local residents, a heli-skiing operator, private landowners, and motorized and non-motorized recreationists. San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan Counties support the legislation, in addition to the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Norwood, Ridgway, and Ouray, as well as the Ridgway Area and Telluride Chambers of Commerce.
Over three years in the making, multiple groups worked together to make sure all stakeholders were heard in this process. Conservation groups and lawmakers met with all user groups and adjacent landowners of the areas, found compromise and developed a proposal that has a broad range of support from the entire region.
"I am grateful to see Senators Udall and Bennet taking action that represents so much of our local grassroots efforts," said Pete McCay, San Juan County Commissioner. “The Senators recognize that our wild and scenic areas are essential for tourism, our main economic engine.”
“The town of Ouray and the county are a year-round destination for people who want to enjoy the outdoors. These visitors are a key part of our current economy and our future, and its great to see Senators Udall and Bennet taking steps to ensure our region’s economic future with this legislation,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray County Commissioner. “Hats off to the Senators for the courage and vision to move this legislation forward.”
"Senators Udall and Bennet believe in the vital importance of preserving our remaining wild lands and I am thrilled to see this incredible area in Southwest Colorado move closer to protection” said Hilary White, Executive Director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance. “This bill is broadly supported regionally and we hope that it will be in Congress as well."
“San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act exemplifies all that National Wilderness Month symbolizes,” said Jeff Widen, conservation designations associate director of the Wilderness Support Center The Wilderness Society. “In reintroducing this bill, Senators Udall and Bennet have shown that land preservation and our outdoor recreation economy are driving forces in Colorado.”
Recreation and tourism is critical to Southwest Colorado and the state. Outdoor recreation supports more than 107,000 jobs and contributes $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy.
The supporters will continue to work with elected officials and people on the ground to ensure that this bipartisan legislation becomes law this year.