Michael Bennet U.S. Senator for ColoradoMenu
Gunnison County is home to about 1.7 million acres of public lands, covering over 70% of the County. These public lands support a rich legacy of family ranching, a thriving outdoor recreation economy, and world-class scientific research. They also safeguard critical headwaters of the Colorado River, provide some of the most intact big-game habitat in Colorado, and harbor numerous at-risk species.
The draft GORP Act was carefully designed to protect critical community values in the Gunnison Basin, including:
A strong economy
Clean water and air
A wide range of sustainably managed outdoor recreation
Healthy, intact ecosystems
Robust wildlife populations, including cold-water fisheries
A long legacy of ranching
Opportunities for scientific research
Gunnison County, along with Colorado, is growing and changing. Visitation has exploded; climate change, drought, and development are putting unprecedented stress on our natural resources; and the importance of the outdoors for recreation and as a refuge for our local communities has never been greater. The draft GORP Act is carefully designed to protect the values that Gunnison Basin residents and Coloradans cherish long into the future. This proposal will help protect existing uses while also ensuring the future vitality of the region’s landscape. While conversations about long-term protection have been ongoing in the region for decades, local stakeholders with wide-ranging interests have coalesced around a common vision in recent years. Now is the moment to ensure that the Gunnison Basin’s incredible natural and cultural heritage is preserved for generations to come.Return to Top
Responding to constituent requests to protect and enhance the recreational, cultural, scenic, and ecological values of public lands in the Gunnison Basin, Senator Bennet invited local stakeholders to submit proposals to his office in 2012.
After a few years of collecting public proposals, the Gunnison County Commissioners assembled local stakeholders to develop a common vision for the future of public lands in Gunnison County. This working group of local stakeholders became known as the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI).
Members of GPLI include:
After eighteen months of studying the array of public land management issues in the Gunnison Basin and discussing various interests and options through professionally-facilitated public meetings, GPLI released a consensus draft proposal for public land management and protection in and around Gunnison County in 2017. After two years of public comment and extensive vetting with on-the-ground stakeholders, GPLI released a revised, consensus proposal in 2019. The agreement reached in the 2019 GPLI proposal is the basis of Senator Bennet’s draft Gunnison Outdoor Resources Protection Act.Return to Top
The following principles, collectively agreed upon by the members of GPLI, guided the coalition’s discussions and the creation of their final proposal:
Appropriate balance between wilderness, recreational, wildlife, ecological, economic, cultural, and scenic values of public lands
Support for a strong, sustainable economy in Gunnison County
Respect for historic uses of public lands
Use of the best available science and all relevant information
Desire to find workable solutions to all interests
Recognizing the unique and diverse values of public lands in the Gunnison Basin, the draft GORP Act would establish six different types of public land designations, each designed to carefully fit the important values of the lands and community, protect existing uses, and conserve important natural values. All of the special designation areas in the draft GORP Act would help protect their natural, scenic, scientific, cultural, watershed, recreation, and wildlife resources. However, each also emphasizes some uniquely important values. The types of designations and the values they emphasize are:
Protection Areas: protecting natural and undeveloped character.
Recreation Management Areas: providing for and improving the management of recreation resources for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Rocky Mountain Scientific Research and Education Area: encouraging and preserving the conditions necessary for natural science research and education, and providing opportunities for the use of continually emerging techniques and methodologies in the conduct of such research and education.
Special Management Areas: broadly conserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural, scenic, scientific, cultural, watershed, recreation, and wildlife resources of the areas.
Wilderness: preserving and protecting the natural ecosystems and wild areas, and providing opportunities for solitude and retrospective or primitive recreation.
Wildlife Conservation Areas: conserving and restoring wildlife and wildlife habitat. Return to Top
Most of the members of the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) reside in the Gunnison Valley. As they were discussing areas for protection, the members of the GPLI recognized that several important landscapes in the broader Gunnison Basin have been recommended for designation. In some cases, however, those proposals remain the subject of ongoing discussions aimed at fully vetting the proposals and building consensus. These areas are labeled on the map as areas “in Discussion” and corresponding provisions are included in brackets in the draft GORP Act so that the public can review potential legislative language. With further on-the-ground input from regional stakeholders and appropriate support, these areas could be included in a revised version of the GORP Act for introduction in Congress.Return to Top
The draft GORP Act is designed to protect critical headwaters for the Gunnison Basin and the Colorado River. It also includes specific provisions that apply to all of the special designation areas to ensure that the use and allocation of water rights are not affected. Provisions are incorporated from the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act to provide for the continued access to, and the use, operation, and maintenance of, water resource facilities like irrigation canals that are located within the proposed wilderness areas.Return to Top
The draft GORP Act will not affect private property rights. Each special designation area would be established “subject to valid existing rights”, including private property rights. The legislation is designed to protect the federal public land values that are important to ranchers, water users, recreationists, conservationists and others who use and rely on our federal lands in the Gunnison Basin. It does not restrict the use of private lands.Return to Top
Sustaining the ranching culture and livestock grazing in the Gunnison Basin was a foundational principle of the GPLI stakeholders, and that principle is reflected in the many provisions in the draft GORP Act. The proposal includes special language to ensure that ranchers will be able to continue their grazing operations within all of the proposed special designation areas.Return to Top
Continuing to provide world-class summer motorized recreation opportunities in the Gunnison Basin was a key goal of the GPLI that is reflected in the draft GORP Act. The special designation areas in the bill do not close any roads or trails where summer motorized use currently is permitted by the federal land management agencies.Return to Top
From the Teocalli Ridge Trail to the Doctor’s Park Trail, the draft GORP Act will protect some of the greatest mountain biking experiences in the country. With a couple of minor adjustments to protect important wildland values, the draft legislation does not affect any existing mountain biking routes. In addition, the draft GORP Act includes specific provisions permitting a number of new routes to be considered within proposed protected areas. These routes include:
Big Grassy Trail
Crested Butte to Carbondale Trail
Crested Butte to Paonia Trail
Antelope Ridge Trail and Connector
East-West Antelope Trail
West Antelope Trail
Crested Butte to Gunnison Trail
Mill Creek Connector
In recent years, public land management agencies, trail user groups, and concerned citizens have spent significant resources and time maintaining and updating trails throughout Gunnison County. Ensuring that trails are well-designed and sustainably routed prevents erosion, protects resources, and enhances the user experience. Each of the proposed special designation areas are buffered from adjacent roads and trails in accordance with federal land management standards. In addition, GPLI, working with local experts in trail design and maintenance, conducted a route-by-route inventory of such trails to assess whether larger buffers may be needed in specific instances. The draft GORP Act includes those adjustments to ensure that necessary trail modifications and maintenance can be made in the future.Return to Top
The draft legislation was carefully vetted by winter recreational users. GPLI does not affect the agreement reached by the “Gang of Nine” in the Crested Butte area or change current travel management. Winter motorized use within portions of some proposed special designation areas will be left to future winter travel management planning by the federal land management agencies.
The draft GORP Act also proposes a significant provision modifying the boundary of an existing Wilderness Area to protect the safety of snowmobilers (more below).Return to Top
The existing West Elk Wilderness pushes snowmobilers crossing Ohio Pass into a terrain trap, creating a dangerous avalanche risk. This small boundary change (less than 10 acres) will allow snowmobilers safe passage through this dangerous terrain. This part of the proposal is just one illustration of the strong collaboration among the GPLI for the benefit of public lands users.Return to Top
The Gunnison Basin is home to a wide range of quiet uses, including horseback riding, Nordic skiing, bird and wildlife-watching, and hiking. The draft GORP Act designates many of the Gunnison Basin’s spectacular large, intact natural areas – such as Star Peak and East Cement Mountain – as Wilderness, protecting their natural beauty and quiet use for generations to come. The proposal also uses a variety of special designation areas to ensure a myriad of quiet recreation opportunities in the Gunnison Basin are protected into the future.Return to Top
New oil and gas leases and new mining claims would be prohibited within the special designation areas proposed by the draft GORP Act, but the proposal does not address mineral development outside of those areas. Valid existing claims and leases within the proposed special designation areas would not be affected.Return to Top
The boundaries of the special designation areas within the draft GORP Act were carefully designed to be set back from houses and other development in the wildland-urban interface, and the proposal includes provisions ensuring that federal land managers continue to have discretion to fight wildfires within the proposed areas. The special designation areas were tailored to account for wildfire risk, and the legislation includes provisions encouraging hazardous fuels reduction to be focused in areas near communities, while focusing on forest health in the backcountry.Return to Top
The draft GORP Act promises substantial benefits for wildlife by keeping critical habitat intact. All of the proposed designations–and the Wildlife Conservation Areas in particular–will help protect wildlife habitat. The proposal also includes provisions encouraging wet meadow and riparian restoration projects to improve climate resiliency and wildlife habitat in key areas in the Gunnison Basin.Return to Top
The Gunnison Basin has some of the most productive big game herds and fisheries in the state, and protecting and enhancing hunting and fishing was a key goal of the GPLI. Increased visitation and recreation, climate change, and pollution increasingly threaten wildlife populations, hunting, and fishing in the Basin. The proposed designation areas were designed to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat and ensure that hunting and fishing continue to flourish into the future. The draft legislation would not change rules for hunting or the management of wildlife–Colorado Parks and Wildlife would continue to be primarily responsible for wildlife management.Return to Top
Each of the proposed special designation areas in the draft GORP Act includes provisions to ensure that federal land managers and emergency responders continue to have access to respond to emergencies within Wilderness and the other proposed designations.Return to Top
A Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administrative designation. The BLM must manage WSAs to retain their Wilderness character until Congress makes a final determination on whether they should be included in the National Wilderness Preservation System. This draft GORP Act proposes that Congress make such a determination by designating a portion of the Powderhorn WSA as Wilderness and releasing the remaining portions for more flexible management as part of the proposed Powderhorn Wildlife Conservation Area.Return to Top