Support unlikely for DeGette plan
Post Independent staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – It appears likely that the Garfield County commissioners will not be supporting a bill to designate 1,600 acres of public land near Carbondale as official wilderness.
The final decision will not be made at least until Sept. 7, to give Commissioner Mike Samson a chance to visit the area in question before he casts his vote.
But at the board of county commissioners meeting on Aug. 16, Samson indicated he is “leaning” against the proposal, a wilderness bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, that includes about 1,600 acres witching Garfield County, known as Assignation Ridge, along with 34 other areas around Colorado.
DeGette, who has been trying to get this wilderness bill passed for more than a decade, met with the BOCC recently to talk about the bill and the issues behind it.
Following that meeting, the board delayed voting on whether to support the bill, as DeGette had requested.
Instead, the BOCC urged local critics of the bill, chiefly mountain biking advocates worried about closure of certain trails, to contact DeGette’s office and see if some compromise could be reached that would ease their concerns.
Todd Fugate of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bikers Association, told the BOCC on Monday that his organization contacted DeGette’s office but with no success.
“Unfortunately, she held her ground,” Fugate said on Monday.
He urged the BOCC to throw its support behind a resource management plan issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is in charge of the acreage in Garfield County. The bill also would put wilderness designation over 6,400 acres or so in Pitkin County, which supports the measure.
“I think this wilderness [designation] is too far,” Samson said. “That’s not where we want to go.”
But, he emphasized, “That’s where I’m leaning. I’m not saying I’m there.”
On the other side of the political fence, Commissioner Tresi Houpt came to the meeting with a draft letter to send to DeGette supporting her bill.
Commissioner John Martin appeared to be leaning against the wilderness designation as things stand now.
“It’s a cycle of man,” Martin said of the lingering indications of historic human activities in the high country, including abandoned coal mines, ranch roads and other signs of mankind’s imprint.
“We have to accept that man is going to be here, he’s going to come and go,” Martin continued.
The meeting was not a formal public hearing, but the BOCC agreed to take public comment, and got plenty of it from those in favor of wilderness designation and those opposed to it.
More than one person suggested the BOCC search for “alternatives” to wilderness designation, including Chris Harrison, a member of the Carbondale Parks and Recreation Commission, which he said has urged the Carbondale Town Council to withhold support for the bill for fear of negative impacts to the town’s tourist-based economy.
But Carbondale town council member John Hoffmann urged the BOCC to support the bill, saying, “We have industrialized 90 percent of Garfield County [a reference to the oil and gas extraction industry], but we have this one tiny little corner, 1,600 acres, three square miles, almost, that gives us the chance to balance that industrialization with a tiny bit of covenant to the land [that can help people understand] what our true union is with the land that nurtures us.”
Martin corrected Hoffmann, saying the county has developed “maybe 10 percent” of the county’s 3 million acres.
Officially opposing wilderness designation for Assignation Ridge, Perry Will of the state Division of Wildlife said the agency is worried that wilderness designation might interfere with the DOW’s wildlife management work. He, too, encouraged the BOCC to look for “some sort of alternate designation.”
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