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Colorado canyon country proposed as wilderness

The 27,133-acre Palisade area is part of the 1.4 million acres proposed for protection as wilderness   

February 22, 1999
Web posted at: 1:30 PM EST

Representative Diane DeGette, D-Colo., announced an initiative Jan. 17 to protect as wilderness 1.4 million acres of Colorado's canyon county, most of which is located on the western slope.

The permanent protection of these lands has long been advocated by environmentalists. Most of the land is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and is open to logging, mining, oil and gas exploration and off-road vehicle use.

Degette will introduce the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1999 in Congress this week. The bill mirrors the "Citizens Wilderness Proposal" which has been promoted by citizen groups since 1994.

"Protected public lands are a major asset to my county -- that's why we endorsed the Citizens' Wilderness Proposal and why we support DeGette's bill," said Art Goodtimes, a San Miguel County Commissioner. "Wilderness not only provides great recreation opportunities, it also attracts businesses drawn to the high quality of life in our communities."

Everyone from the Colorado Wildlife Federation to outdoor outfitters have lined up to back the bill, saying they value protected wilderness for its hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation virtues.

"Protecting public lands protects my bottom line," said Bob Kennemer, a professional guide and outfitter in south-central Colorado. "My clients want to experience the solitude, beauty and adventure of the great outdoors. Wilderness designation ensures that these lands will be protected for all to enjoy, as well as for local businesses which depend upon them for their livelihoods."

Even a poll of Colorado registered voters conducted by Talmey-Drake in 1997 found overwhelming support for the Citizens' Wilderness Proposal, with 80 percent of respondents supporting wilderness protection.

"Coloradans want to make sure there are places where they can take the kids, get out on the land, and maybe see a bobcat drinking from a stream or a golden eagle sailing in the sky," said Susan Tixier, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Despite the growing support from outfitters, sportsmen and citizens groups, the "usual suspects that tend to be anti-wilderness" are bound to oppose the bill, said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director of The Wilderness Society.

Those usual suspects include the oil and gas industry, off-road vehicle users and the livestock industry.

"This is the first step in what will be a long process," said Jones as she pointed out that the last Colorado wilderness legislation took 10 years to pass.

The 1.4 million-acre bill affects two percent of the entire Colorado land base. It leaves 85 percent of the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management open to oil and gas drilling, mining, off-road vehicle use and other development activities.

Protected in the legislation will be 49 areas, including Castle Peak, home to black bear, elk and beaver; the Delores River Canyon, where hundreds of rafters and canoeists come to have fun each year; and the Vermillion Basin, containing ancient petroglyphs and stunning rock formations.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Colorado Canyon Country
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