Polis presents draft wilderness bill for public consumption

U.S. Congressman Jared Polis, whose sprawling district includes Boulder but also some of the most intensely utilized national forest land in the state, this week released a discussion draft of legislation to create new wilderness areas in Eagle and Summit counties.

Polis said his scaled-down alternative to the massive four-county Hidden Gems proposal has garnered broad consensus and is ready for legislative action.

“Our mountain landscapes are something that we take great pride in here in Colorado,” Polis said in a release. “These areas are essential to our economy and our environment, and through this legislation we can ensure that more of our beautiful areas are preserved and can be enjoyed by our children for years to come.”

The discussion draft (pdf), entitled the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act, would protect a number of pristine Colorado wild areas by designating some areas as wilderness – in which motorized travel and industrial development such as mining, logging and oil and gas production is prohibited – and designating others that have outstanding community needs as special management areas.

The special management areas include public lands used by the Colorado Army National Guard’s High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site (HAATS) at the Eagle County Regional Airport, where military helicopter pilots from around the world learn to fly in hot, high altitude conditions similar to areas of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This bill would designate nearly 90,000 new acres of wilderness and preserve an additional estimated 80,000 acres as special management areas or companion designations. Click here for a topographic map (pdf) and here for a section-by-section description of the draft plan (pdf).

“This discussion draft is the result of many long hours spent bringing stakeholders together, poring over maps, and finding and building consensus within the community,” Polis said. “We went to great efforts to take into account the reasonable needs of users and residents on all sides, and have produced a product that is ready to advance through the legislative process.”

Polis emphasized the draft is not final and he’s still open to changes, but he hopes to introduce a bill this fall preserving areas ready for legislation while working on other areas that still need broader consensus.

In discussing the history leading up to the current draft, Polis said the much larger Hidden Gems proposal (more than 300,000 acres in four counties) started the process, but Polis added said public input really shaped the current draft and he reserves the right to introduce additional wilderness legislation at a future date.

“This proposal should by no means be considered a ‘comprehensive’ or ‘Hidden Gems’ wilderness bill,” Polis said. “There is still an ongoing discussion about other potential wilderness areas, and I will continue working with local governments, residents, and stakeholders on issues and areas that this legislation doesn’t address.”

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