Bill protects large areas of public land in Colorado |

Bill protects large areas of public land in Colorado

summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Wednesday’s passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Bill means Colorado will get several big chunks of new wilderness, including parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and in canyon country along the Gunnison River.

No lands in Summit County are included, but the vote by Congress sets the stage for a renewed push to expand White River National Forest wilderness areas, perhaps as soon as the end of this summer, said Lisa Smith, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

“It shows a lot of local support and enthusiasm for wilderness,” Smith said. “This is putting Hidden Gems in a great spot,” she added, referring to a campaign to add big swaths of new wilderness in the Ten Mile and Gore ranges, as well as other areas in Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties.

For more information on the local wilderness plan, see

“Thanks to the dedication of members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, the land management agencies, and conservation advocates statewide, iconic landscapes such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyons will now be protected as designated wilderness,” said Suzanne Jones, regional director of The Wilderness Society. “The Omnibus Public Lands Bill is one of America’s biggest environmental accomplishments in two decades and a great victory for Colorado.”

The public lands bill is headed for President Barack Obama’s desk. The new public land designations were the result of multi-year, bipartisan efforts led by Colorado conservation groups, working closely with congressional offices, and the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. These latest wilderness designations are Colorado’s first since 2002.

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More information and photos of the new wilderness areas are online at:

Closer to Summit County, one of the measures, the South Park National Heritage Act, would protect 19 working ranches along 30 miles of stream corridor and 17,000 acres of wetlands and agricultural lands in the headwaters of the South Platte River.

Another measure, dubbed the Front Range Mountain Backdrop Act, would protect open spaces and natural resources between burgeoning cities and suburbs.

“We’re real pleased about it,” said Steve Smith, a conservation expert with The Wilderness Society. Both wilderness areas have widespread local support.

The Dominguez Canyon bill is unique because it creates a new wilderness for Bureau of Land Management land within a conservation area that also protects traditional agricultural uses as well as ancient examples of rock art, Smith explained.

Smith said it’s one of the few lower-elevation wilderness areas in the state, helping to protect different wildlife that’s not found in the traditional, high-elevation “rock and ice” wilderness areas.

In general, Smith said the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in both houses are more likely to take a “balanced” approach to public land management, recognizing both the importance of extracting valuable resources and the need to set aside areas with high environmental and social values.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at

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