Colorado citizen groups herald introduction of legislation in both the U.S. House and Senate to create Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area and a surrounding national conservation area.
Thanks to legislation introduced today by members of Colorado's congressional delegation, the spectacular redrock bends and alcoves of the Dominguez and Escalante canyons south of Grand Junction are a step closer to being permanently protected.
"We are thrilled," said Joe Neuhof, Western Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "This new legislation captures the strong momentum that has long been building to protect this marvelous landscape."
The legislation introduced today in Washington D.C is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar in the Senate and his brother, Rep. John Salazar in the House.
"We are delighted with leadership provided by Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar in protecting this beautiful area," Wilderness Society Assistant Regional Director Steve Smith said. "Senator Wayne Allard has also been an active and helpful participant in the negotiations, and we hope to see him joining the legislation in the near future."
"The citizens of western Colorado have been recreating in this spectacular area for decades" said Clare Bastable of the Colorado Mountain Club. "We are proud of our senators for having taken this important step to ensure outstanding recreational opportunities for generations to come."
Once passed, the bill will create the approximately 200,000-acre Dominguez-Escalante Canyons National Conservation Area.
The conservation area will preserve the land's current variety of uses and will include the approximately 75,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area. The wilderness area is formally recommended by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for protection and is part of Colorado's Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal, a statewide collection of areas endorsed by the Colorado Wilderness Network, local governments, businesses, and civic organizations.
Known for their herds of desert bighorn sheep, true solitude and ancient rock art illustrating a cultural history stretching back hundreds of years, the new conservation area includes serpentine redrock sandstone canyons that slice deeply into some of the wildest quarters of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
The national conservation area - Colorado's third - will protect the natural features and recreation opportunities in Escalante Canyon, Cactus Park, and nearby mesas, surrounding the new wilderness, protected forever along Big Dominguez and Little Dominguez creeks.
"This is great news, and we thank the senators for acting," said Andy Whipple of Western Colorado Congress. "This bill is a good start toward protecting deserving lands, wildlife habitat, and other stunning canyons in the vicinity"including places like Roubideau Canyon, Kelso Mesa, Black Point, and Dominguez North."
Grazing will be permitted throughout the proposed conservation area, while off-road vehicles will be able to use trails open to them outside the wilderness.
A new BLM management plan for the conservation area will ultimately determine which trails will remain open to specific uses, under the proposal.
Members of the Colorado Wilderness Network"including Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Western Colorado Congress"have been working since 1986 to protect the Dominguez and Escalante canyons.
In addition to thanking Colorado's congressional delegation, the groups thank local BLM staff and Mesa, Montrose and Delta county commissioners for collaborating on the bill.
Four Western Slope residents and members of Western Colorado Congress travelled to Washington, D.C., to promote the legislation.
"We spent the past three days meeting with congressmen/women and their staff. I like to think we made a real difference," said Tony Prendergast, a WCC board member that attended.
"We're really excited the senator has introduced this bill. We're hopeful Congress can get it passed this year," said Joan Woodward.
Western Colorado Congress has been actively pursuing national legislation for the area for more than 10 years.
"Today is a great day for public lands protection in western Colorado," said WCC Organizer Andy Whipple.