Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act would add 236k wilderness acres in Colo.

Posted: Mar 5, 2012

Comment Deadline: Indefinite

General overview:

Colorado Senator Mark Udall is asking for public comments on a proposal for as many as 32 areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties. This could mean up to 236,000 acres in land to be designated as Wilderness and Special-Management Areas (SMAs). These areas include additions to existing Wilderness areas including Holy Cross, Eagles Nest and the Maroon Bells.

Senator Udall is asking Coloradans in those communities and a wide range of interest groups what they would like to see from a Wilderness proposal. His goal is to develop a legislative plan that is supported by a majority of the communities affected. Because of his position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Udall has an opportunity to further push these community plans forward.

Background on proposed areas:

The proposed areas are all located in central Colorado. The public lands in these areas offer many outdoor recreational opportunities, which include skiing, snowboarding, hunting, fishing, hiking, guided horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. These areas are also key components to Colorado's second-largest industry, tourism.

The areas under consideration in Eagle and Summit counties have also been identified as important ecological areas that provide wildlife habitat and serve as community watersheds, including Hoosier Ridge near Breckenridge and West Lake Creek outside of Edwards.

What is a Special Management Area?

SMA is a general term for many different types of land management that are applied to federal lands under as variety of regulations and prescriptions, including Wilderness designations. These areas, sites, and potential systems are regional, national, and international in scope and are managed totally by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or in conjunction with another agency, locale, or entity.

The purpose of a SMA is to conserve and protect for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the geological, cultural, archaeological, paleontological, natural, scientific, recreational, wilderness, wildlife, riparian, historical, educational, and scenic resources of an area.

What is a Wilderness area?

A Wilderness area is Federal land set aside by an act of Congress. Wilderness is defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Act) as “. . . an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Wilderness is further defined in the Act to mean an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. Additionally, areas considered as Wilderness should have no enterprises within them or any motorized/mechanized devices.

When Congress designates each Wilderness area, it includes a very specific boundary line in statutory law. Once a Wilderness area has been added to the system, its protection and boundary can only be altered by another act of Congress. This places a heavy burden on anyone who, all through the future, may propose some change in the future.

Wilderness areas serve multiple uses. But the law limits uses to those consistent with the Wilderness Act mandate that each Wilderness area be administered to preserve the “Wilderness character of the area.” For example, these areas protect watersheds and clean-water supplies vital to downstream municipalities and agriculture, as well as habitats that support diverse wildlife, including endangered species, while logging and oil and gas drilling are prohibited.

Along with many other uses for the American people, Wilderness areas are also popular for diverse kinds of outdoor recreation—but without motorized or mechanical vehicles or equipment. Scientific research is also allowed in Wilderness areas, as long as it is non-invasive.

The Wilderness Act also allows certain uses (e.g.; resource extraction, grazing, etc.) which existed before the land became Wilderness to be grandfathered in, permitting them to continue to take place although the area that was designated as Wilderness typically would not concede such uses. Specifically, mining, grazing, water uses, or any other uses that don’t significantly impact the majority of the area, can remain in some degree.

What effects might a Wilderness designation have on an area?

Wilderness designations help preserve the natural state of the land and protect flora and fauna by prohibiting development and mechanized recreation. Human activities in Wilderness areas are restricted to scientific study and non-mechanized recreation. Horses are permitted but mechanized vehicles and equipment, such as cars and bicycles, are not.

Due to these restrictions, opponents of increased Wilderness designations fear that these designations harm local economies by limiting opportunities for economic development. Advocates of the designations counter that the presence of Wilderness actually attracts residents and businesses to nearby communities. They also claim that Wilderness increases property values and creates a higher quality of life in those communities. Advocates also claim that Wilderness contributes to a healthy tourism industry.

Proposed Areas for Wilderness and SMA Designations:

The following specific areas are being considered:

Acorn Creek, Adam Mountain, Bull Gulch, Castle Peak, Castle Peak SMA, Crystal River, Eagle Mountain, Freeman Creek, Hay Park, Hay Park East, Hayes Creek, Hoosier Companion, Hoosier Ridge, Hunter, Mormon Creek, No Name, North Independent A, North Independent B, Pisgah Mountain SMA, Porcupine Gulch, Ptarmigan A, Red Table SMA, Ruby Lakes, Spraddle Creek, Tenmile, Tenmile Companion, Thompson Creek, Thompson Creek BLM, Ute Pass, West lake Creek, Wildcat Mountain, Williams Fork, Woods Lake.


Read news on the proposed wilderness areas.
See maps of the areas proposed for wilderness, or special management, designation.

Comment on the proposed wilderness areas.

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