Polis weighs into fray over ‘Hidden Gems’ wilderness proposal

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) is clearly trying to head off health care town hall-style lynch mobs at the pass by getting out in front of the broiling rhetoric over the proposed “Hidden Gems” wilderness plan.

The proposal is still being drafted – and seeking a congressional sponsor – but basically proponents hope to lock up more than 400,000 acres of the White River and Gunnison National Forests, as well as some nearby BLM land, with a wilderness designation that would prohibit wheeled traffic, road building and development of any kind.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis

Most of Hidden Gems would impact the White River National Forest — by far the state’s most popular for recreational users — which Forest Service officials recommend should get about 82,000 additional acres of wilderness protection.

Off-road enthusiasts such as ATV riders and snowmobilers have rallied en masse to fight the proposal, jamming local meetings with “passionate” backers of open access. But conservationists counter our public lands are getting used to death, and they also want to block extractive industries such as oil and gas.

Polis, whose sprawling Second Congressional District reaches from Boulder to western Eagle County and includes much of the White River National Forest, looks like a likely congressional sponsor under the Wilderness Act of 1964.

In a recent letter to local papers, Polis said his office will begin hosting local open houses in the coming weeks and months to gauge public sentiment and narrow down the most appropriate areas of the national forest for wilderness designation. It’s clear, though, he’s expecting a public and political battle royal.

“Undoubtedly and unfortunately, extreme points of view will enter this discussion, but we must all work together to put passions aside and stick to the facts,” Polis wrote.

“My office has already heard some examples of confusion and misinformation and I hope that I can be helpful in getting to the bottom of any questions and concerns. Individuals have cited old or incorrect maps and trails, have confused the ‘Hidden Gems’ wilderness proposal with other proposals, have heard incorrect timeframes, have assumed that draft proposals are final, or are unaware of solutions that are being worked out between opposing viewpoints. This is exactly why process counts in the question of wilderness designation.”

Polis also invited public comment by phone at his Frisco office at (970) 668-3240 or his Boulder office at (303) 484-9596), and online comment at www.polis.house.gov.

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