Citizen wilderness vision: 770,000 acres
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Anglers, mountain climbers and steadfast environmentalists announced on Monday a sweeping new wilderness proposal for the White River National Forest.
The group presented its plan at Two Rivers Park, just in time for today’s 33rd celebration of Earth Day.
The proposal, called the White River National Forest Citizens’ Wilderness Vision, aims to set aside 26 areas in and around the national forest – totaling 270,000 acres – for immediate designation as wilderness. In all, the coalition envisions preserving 770,000 acres in the forest and Bureau of Land Management areas.
The philosophy behind the plan, White River Conservation Project director Richard Compton explained, is to keep wild areas in their natural state so plants and animals have a place to live and flourish, and to connect those areas so wildlife has a chance to roam.
“It’s easy to think designating something as wilderness area changes it. It could close a mountain bike or motorcycle trail. But essentially it’s keeping it as it is,” Compton said.
Designated wilderness areas are vital to the health of forests, watershed and wildlife, a news release on the proposal said, and much of the land that could be protected lies in lower-elevation areas where biologically diverse ecosystems thrive.
“In the White River area, numerous species are at risk, including the native cutthroat trout, Canada lynx, northern goshawk, boreal toad, black swift, boreal owl, purple marten and wolverine,” the news release said. Harrington’s beardtongue penstemon is a plant species at risk.
Of the 1.2 million acres in the White River National Forest eligible for wilderness designation, the group is pushing for 270,000 acres to be designated right away and another 500,000 acres later. The remaining 430,000 acres have conflicting uses, including ranching and snowmobiling, that could draw opposition and bog down the process.
Colorado Mountain Club conservation coordinator Clare Bastable said she has dealt extensively in trying to resolve conflicts in areas being considered for wilderness designation.
“We work with them to come to as much middle ground as possible,” she said. “I’m an avid mountain biker, but as an avid mountain biker, I realize there are some places that need protection.”
Colorado Mountain Club is, at its heart, a recreational organization. So while Bastable would like to see some areas protected, she’s also in favor of allowing some form of recreation in those areas.
She worked with mountain bikers, equestrian groups, hunting guides and other land user groups to resolve as many conflicting land use issues as possible before the plan was released.
“To us, this makes a lot of sense,” she said. “As Colorado continues to grow, we need to protect these areas.”
Ken Neubecker, a board member for Trout Unlimited’s Ferdinand Hayden Chapter, emphasized the importance pristine wilderness areas have in keeping high-quality fisheries.
“Rivers are dependent on water quality from wilderness areas,” he said. “The wilderness areas . are really the wellsprings from which the community benefits.”
Sierra Club representative Deb Robison said the broad-based coalition of supporters for the wilderness vision and the background work on potential conflicts should cut down on protests by divergent users.
“I don’t think things need to be so polarized,” she said.
Now that the plan has been released, the next step is to contact Colorado’s federal lawmakers to urge Congress to make these designations. The plan was expected to arrive at the offices of 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, and U.S. Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard, both R-Colo., as well as some state legislators, on Monday.
“We’ll be giving them calls and asking them how we can move the entire package or the parts they find most intriguing,” said Aspen Wilderness Workshop conservation director Sloan Shoemaker. “We’ve compiled our vision into a very comprehensive package.”
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
Areas proposed for wilderness designation in the White River National Forest Citizens’ Wilderness Vision:
Assignation Ridge/Thompson Creek
Maroon Bells-Snowmass addition
Red Lake-Hack Creek addition
Ripple Creek Pass
Spradle Creek and Freeman Creek additions
Ute Pass and Acorn Creek
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