Polis will introduce ‘Hidden Gems’ Wilderness bill | SummitDaily.com

Polis will introduce ‘Hidden Gems’ Wilderness bill

Scott Condon
the aspen times

A Wilderness bill loosely related to the controversial Hidden Gems proposal is about to hit the big stage of U.S. Congress – sort of.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis planned to introduce a bill last night with a proposal for Wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties, a spokeswoman for his office confirmed. Polis communication director Lara Cottingham said details of the bill wouldn’t be shared until today. She had no comment when asked if the bill will resemble draft legislation Polis circulated in August.

Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Summit County.

Quick and decisive action on the Polis bill is impossible. Congress voted Wednesday to adjourn for the fall campaign at the completion of business late Wednesday or early Thursday. No action can be taken on the bill during recess. While Democrats control the House now, the makeup could be substantially different after the November election.

It wasn’t immediately clear if there was any strategic advantage to the bill being introduced Wednesday night.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop and a central figure in the Hidden Gems proposal, declined to comment on Polis’ action.

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Polis’ draft of the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act proposed Wilderness for about 90,000 acres and lower levels of protection on another 80,000 acres, placing some level of protection on a total of 170,000 acres.

The environmental coalition promoting the Hidden Gems sought Wilderness designation, the highest protection, on about 244,000 in the two counties.

Although Polis pared about 74,000 acres from the Hidden Gems plan in his draft, the environmental coalition said it would support his proposal and hailed it as a victory.

Opponents were also pleased because it removed several high-profile areas from a possible Wilderness designation – including the Elliot Ridge area in Summit County popular with backcountry snowmobilers.

“The discussion draft is not to be considered final, but Polis hopes to introduce a bill this fall preserving areas currently ready for legislative action, while continuing to build consensus around other areas not appropriate for legislation at this time,” Polis’ statement said last month.