Community-Driven Effort to Protect Watershed Heads to Presidents Desk
Washington, DC - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton today celebrated the Senate's passage of their bipartisan bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango.
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act would establish a management plan for the watershed based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which included local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders, and other interested citizens. Bennet introduced the bill last year with Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), while Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
"Folks in Southwest Colorado can finally claim victory. Everyone in the local communities - from sportsmen, to snowmobilers, to conservationists, to the mining industry - can celebrate their hard work to come together and implement their shared vision for one of Colorado's natural treasures," Bennet said. "This bill was written by them, and it protects this land for many of its historic uses, including fishing for cutthroat trout, backcountry hunting, camping, mountain biking and motorcycle riding on world class trails, and snowmobiling through fresh powder on Molas Pass. The cooperation, compromise, and hard work put into this bill over a number of years by a diverse group of Coloradans should serve as a model for Washington. I was proud to work with Congressman Tipton to get this important measure across the finish line."
"The people of Southwest Colorado who have dedicated so much time and effort as a community to help craft and support this legislation that will protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed and the multiple uses of that land, have reason to celebrate today," said Congressman Scott Tipton. "I'm pleased to have been able to work with the community and Senator Bennet to get this locally-driven legislation to the President's desk."
The bill would designate approximately 70,650 acres of the San Juan Nation Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will continue to be allowed in the entire watershed.
In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.
The bill also provides for the conveyance of approximately 82 acres of BLM land to La Plata County for its use as a possible future multi-events center site to complement the potential development of a new county fairgrounds on an adjacent parcel of county-owned property.
Supporters of the bill include the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the City of Durango, Town of Silverton, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Southwestern Water Conservation District, San Juan Citizen's Alliance, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Conservation Colorado, Colorado Snowmobile Association, Durango Mountain Resort, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Durango Chamber of Commerce, Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, Trails 2000, Silverton Snowmobile Club, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, American Rivers, Bull Moose Sportsmen Alliance, Mercury Payment Systems, American Motorcycle Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., and the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, in addition to numerous other business and sportsmen groups.
"As the mayor of Durango, I feel that Congress has given an amazing Christmas present to the state of Colorado by passing the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act," said Sweetie Marbury, Mayor of Durango. "We salute Senator Bennet, Senator Udall and Congressman Tipton for their work to carry this through Congress. This gift will last for generations."
"Like a trail through the mountains, the path of the Hermosa Watershed Protection Act has had ups and downs, with obstacles to overcome along the way. Now we have reached our destination," said Julie Westendorff, La Plata County Commissioner. "The bill's passage illustrates that a community can work together and with its lawmakers to create a solution that works for all of us. Hermosa Creek's waters fortify the Animas River, giving us water to drink, irrigation for crops, a top-notch fishery, and a recreational treasure enjoyed by all of us. As a La Plata County Commissioner, I appreciate the work of those in our community and Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton to push, pull, and fight to bring home to Southwest Colorado a bill that will help keep the Hermosa Creek flowing clean into the future."
"The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is the product of years of community work and cooperation to create a piece of legislation that honors the diverse values of our mountain communities," said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner. "I think this bill reflects a common sense compromise that works for everyone. I would like to thank our local partners for all the hard work that made this bill possible and I am so very pleased that Congress has approved this legislation before the end of the year."
"Starting soon after the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, the community has made five attempts to guarantee permanent protection of the Hermosa Watershed. Looks like we finally got'er done," said Ed Zink, 3rd generation rancher and water user, outfitter in Hermosa Creek, board member of Animas Consolidated Ditch Company, Board Member of Animas Water Company, Owner of Mountain Bike Specialists and Founder of Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. "I bet all those old pioneer cowboys whose names are carved in old aspen trees will be smiling around the campfire tonight ‘cause we finally brought the herd home on this one. An old cowboy with two good dogs couldn't have done any better keeping the strays together and getting them to good water. Good clean water never goes out of style. We have collectively taken an important step to ensure good clean water flows from the Hermosa Watershed. This time we've done our civic duty in making our community a better place for future generations. The Hermosa landscape in now protected in a way that it can also be used by everyone. Protection of the whole Hermosa Watershed is a shining example of working together to both protect and utilize our natural gems."
"This bill represents a true balance between all the diverse uses of the Hermosa Creek watershed - Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet deserve our thanks for honoring the community consensus," said Steve Fearn, Member of the Southwestern Water Conservation District Board.
"We are thrilled that our Congressional representatives - working with the Durango community - have been able to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed through this legislation," said Matt Taylor, president of Mercury Payment Systems. "We at Mercury and the entire community of Durango are passionate about keeping Southwest Colorado a great place to live and work. This legislation does that, and I'd like to thank Senator Bennet and Representative Tipton for their bipartisan work in this area."
"The Hermosa Creek Watershed legislation releases a Wilderness Study Area on Molas Pass that was very important to the snowmobile community," said Scott Jones, Vice President Colorado Snowmobile Association and authorized representative of the Trail Preservation Alliance and Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. "The Molas Pass area is a significant riding area for the snowmobile community and a large economic driver for the winter economy of the Town of Silverton community. These riding opportunities and important economic benefits would have been lost without this legislation. Additionally, the legislation creates a 70,000 acre special management area where motorized recreation is protected and preserved in perpetuity. Our deepest gratitude to Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet's offices and everyone that worked so hard to make this legislation a reality."
"Trails 2000 volunteers build and maintain multi-use trails in Southwest Colorado. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act's Special Management Area designation will allow mountain bikers to continue to ride the Hermosa Creek areas quintessential mountain biking trails including the Colorado Trail and the Hermosa Creek trail," said Mary R. Monroe Brown, Director of Trails 2000. "Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton's staff understood the recreational characteristics of the area and made sure to represent the various constituents in an inclusive manner."
"Today's vote to provide durable protections to the Hermosa Creek watershed represents an incredible effort by hundreds of local citizens who came together to create a legacy that supports a diversity of community interests, enhances our economy, protects a unique wild landscape, and demonstrates that citizens can work together for the betterment of all," said Jimbo Buickerood, Public Lands Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. "We are exceedingly grateful to Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton who carried forth the community's intentions and efforts in Congress."
"After four decades of analysis, discussion, and debate, the old-growth forests, cutthroat trout streams, and stunning landscape of the Hermosa Creek watershed is preserved forever," said Jeff Widen, Senior Public Lands Advocate. "What a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Thank you Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton - and all those in our community - for working so hard to make this a reality."
"The Hermosa Creek watershed is a treasure for our local recreation-driven community," said Ty Churchwell, Backcountry Coordinator for Trout Unlimited in Durango. "For sportsmen, Hermosa Creek offers incredible hunting and fishing opportunities just minutes from Durango. Sportsmen take special pleasure in knowing that our beloved native cutthroat trout and big game in southwest Colorado now have a protected home in America's newest wilderness area. We thank Senator Bennet and Representative Tipton for their leadership in bringing local stakeholders together and getting this bill across the finish line. This is a historic conservation achievement."