Friday, January 22, 2010

Telluride Daily Planet, San Juan Wilderness Act hits Capitol Hill

San Juan Wilderness Act hits Capitol Hill

Bill gets audience with House committee
By Katie Klingsporn
Associate Editor
Published: Friday, January 22, 2010 12:26 PM CST
A bill that would blanket many of the public lands in the San Juan region — including the slopes of Mt. Sneffels and Wilson Peak — with a wilderness designation got an audience in the halls of Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act took its first step in the legislative process since Congressman John Salazar introduced it in October when it was given a formal hearing before the House’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Thursday morning in Washington, D.C.

Though the Wilderness Act — HR 3914 — has traveled a long road from its beginnings in 2007 to get to this point, the hearing still marks a relatively early step in its journey to the House floor for consideration.

Nevertheless, it was a big deal for those behind the act, and witnessing it at the center of discussion in the subcommittee felt like the culmination of a lot of work and collaboration, said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. As the SMA director, White turned the first pedal strokes that got the whole thing rolling back in 2007 when she urged the San Miguel County Commissioners to pen a letter to Salazar.

White was in D.C. for the hearing, and was feeling triumphant when it was over.

“We’re thrilled it’s gotten this far,” she said. “It’s really cool to be part of this process and it’s cool to be able to represent the lands that we live in.”

Congressman Salazar led the testimony on Thursday morning, emphasizing both the broad support behind the bill and its lofty goals.

“The San Juan Mountains are one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes, a land of soaring peaks, beautiful forests and crystal clear water. This bill will ensure that these areas remain a place of beauty and wonder for our children and grandchildren to enjoy,” Salazar testified.

White said Salazar was praised all around by the collaboration that went into this bill, and the bill passed through the hearing with little controversy. White said some concerns were brought up regarding motorized vehicles and water rights, but overall it didn’t draw much fire.

“There were no substantial arguments against the bill at all, which was great,” she said.

She did not herself testify, but attended the hearing with Jeff Widen of the Wilderness Society, who spoke in support of the bill.

“He did a great job. He knew his stuff very well and spoke well to the commission,” she said.

White began working on the act back in June of 2007, when she approached the board of county commissioners with the idea, kick-starting the process. That was followed by a year and a half of field work, research and outreach to come up with a draft to present to Salazar’s office. The congressman accepted the draft, and another year of vetting and tweaking and extensive outreach followed before he introduced it in October.

During its journey, the act gathered widespread support — with official backing of San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties as well as the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ridgway, Ouray, Ophir and Norwood. Organizations like San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Wilderness Society were behind it, as well. More>>>