Bennet, Hickenlooper Request Hearing on Legislation to Protect the Dolores River Canyon

Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper sent a letter to U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) formally requesting the committee hold a hearing on the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act, their legislation to protect over 68,000 acres of public lands on the West Slope.

“The Act was crafted with over a decade of work by Coloradans in the Dolores River region through the Lower Dolores Working Group,” wrote Bennet and Hickenlooper in the letter. “This collaborative Working Group includes representatives from agricultural water users, county commissioners, ranchers, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, boating advocates, motorized recreationists, conservation interests, and private landowners.”

The legislation would establish a National Conservation Area (NCA) to protect the Dolores River Corridor and a Special Management Area (SMA) on U.S. Forest Service lands within Dolores, Montezuma, and San Miguel Counties.

“The bill has strong bipartisan support from the three affected counties, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and every participant in the Working Group,” continued Bennet and Hickenlooper. “We encourage the Committee to consider this carefully vetted and broadly supported legislation to protect Colorado’s natural heritage.”

The Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act follows nearly two decades of local discussion and collaboration on the Dolores River and twelve years of work to find a legislative compromise. In 2004, the Dolores River Dialogue began as a forum for all stakeholders to discuss their perspective on Dolores River management. In 2008, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management requested that the Dolores River Dialogue convene a broad-based community group, which became the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group to study pressing management issues in the Dolores River corridor from McPhee to Bedrock, including the possibility of a Wild and Scenic River designation. Through consensus agreement, the working group decided to explore a NCA designation and appointed a Legislative Subcommittee, which included counties, water managers, conservation groups, landowners, recreationists, energy companies, and staff from federal elected officials’ offices, to draft a legislative proposal for further vetting. Bennet has worked with the coalition on this issue for over a decade, and this bill is the culmination of those conversations and collaboration. 

This legislation comes at the specific request of Dolores, Montezuma, and San Miguel Counties as well as the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Southwest Colorado. The bill is also supported by a coalition of conservation groups and the grazing permit holders in the Dolores River Canyon. It enshrines a compromise reached by all those entities that removes the segment of the Dolores River covered by the legislation from consideration as a Wild and Scenic River and protects the natural, recreational, agricultural and other current uses of the Dolores River Canyon as a National Conservation Area. 

More information on the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act is available HERE.

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chairman Manchin and Ranking Member Barrasso:

We respectfully request that the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources schedule a legislative hearing to consider S. 4542, the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act (“The Act”). The Act was introduced on July 14, 2022 and referred to your committee. An identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 29, 2022 and referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The Act was crafted with over a decade of work by Coloradans in the Dolores River region through the Lower Dolores Working Group (“Working Group”). This collaborative Working Group includes representatives from agricultural water users, county commissioners, ranchers, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, boating advocates, motorized recreationists, conservation interests, and private landowners.

The Act enshrines the Working Group’s compromise to remove a segment of the Dolores River from consideration as a Wild and Scenic River, while continuing to recognize the River's special value. The Act designates a National Conservation Area on BLM lands and a Special Management Area on adjacent U.S. Forest Service lands. Each of these designations includes provisions to protect natural, scenic, and historical values, including native fish, while also honoring water rights and protecting agricultural and municipal water supplies as well as recreational river uses. 

The bill has strong bipartisan support from the three affected counties, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and every participant in the Working Group. We encourage the Committee to consider this carefully vetted and broadly supported legislation to protect Colorado’s natural heritage.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,