Bill Would Protect More Than 100,000 Acres in San Juan National Forest, Designate 38,000 acres of new Wilderness
Local communities in Southwest Colorado, along with Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, have struck an agreement on a bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed. The new version of the bill was passed with bipartisan support by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today. Senator Mark Udall, a cosponsor of the bill and member of the committee, spoke and voted in favor of the bill. Passage in committee sets up the bill for consideration by the full Senate. Bennet and Tipton are working together to find a path forward to pass the bill into law before the end of the year.
The bill would protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. It 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.
"The Hermosa Creek watershed represents some of the best that Colorado has to offer. Whether it's stunning vistas, the solitude of wilderness, backcountry trout fishing, or opportunities for motorized recreation - this area is one of our state's treasures. Communities in Southwest Colorado have proven they can work together and find common ground to protect this remarkable place," Bennet said. "This bipartisan bill represents consensus among these communities to balance the land's competing uses and will provide certainty for how the land will be managed in the future. Congress should quickly pass this bill to provide a much-deserved victory to Southwest Colorado."
"As we worked through the legislative process some of the language in the initial draft of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act needed to be clarified to ensure that the community's goals would be carried out, without the risk of misinterpretation by federal agencies once the bill became law," said Tipton. "We are now able to move forward a version of the bill that has the best chance of advancing through both the House and Senate thanks to the hard work and willingness of local stakeholders to come together and compromise. The agreed upon language we have today ensures the community's original goals remain intact, including wilderness protections and multiple use access for existing activities like grazing and snowmobiling in designated areas. This would be a win for the region and we strongly urge our colleagues in Congress to support it."
"Hermosa Creek is at the heart of southwestern Colorado's stunning beauty and boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation. That's why I'm proud we're moving forward to protect this special place," Udall said. "This well-crafted, bipartisan and truly homegrown Colorado bill will protect more than 100,000 acres of pristine land, while carefully preserving existing uses, including water, grazing and recreation."
"I look forward to a successful passage of this new version of the Hermosa Creek bill as it represents years of community work and support to find a way forward that represents the values of our community," Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said. "I thank Senator Bennet, Senator Udall and Congressman Tipton for their tireless work to move this legislation forward on our behalf. "
"The Hermosa Creek Watershed legislation provides for the release of the Wilderness Study Area on Molas Pass between Silverton and Durango. This release is a big win for the snowmobile community, as the Molas Pass area is an important riding area for the snowmobile community and a large economic driver for the Winter economy of the Town of Silverton community," Scott Jones, vice president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, said. "These riding opportunities and important economic benefits would have been lost without this legislation. Our deepest gratitude to Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet's offices and everyone that worked so hard to make this legislation a reality."
"I am proud to lend my support to the bipartisan Hermosa Creek bill," Governor John Hickenlooper said. "Today's vote is a great step forward for the communities in Southwest Colorado that worked tirelessly to achieve consensus on the legislation. I hope that Congress can enact this homegrown Colorado solution before the end of this Congress."
"The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act represents a great model for legislation. It started as an agreement among local stakeholders, people actually affected by the bill, and I hope it successfully concludes through bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill before the end of the year," Julie Westendorff, chair of the La Plata County Commission, said. "Water is one of La Plata County and Southwest Colorado's most precious resources. The Hermosa Creek bill ensures that clean water will feed the Animas River for our farmers, ranchers, fisheries and recreation and help fortify our water security into the future. We thank Senator Bennet and his staff and Congressman Tipton and his staff for their diligence and commitment to keeping the Hermosa Creek bill a reflection of what our community worked for and supported."
"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," Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner, said. "I think this new version of the bill reflects our partnerships and ability to come to a common sense compromise that works for everyone. This bill has something for everyone in our community including our snowmobilers who depend on Molas Pass for their wintertime riding which will be preserved in this bill and help Silverton's winter economy prosper. I hope Congress can come together to enact this legislation before the end of the year."
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.
Supporters of the bill include the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the Durango Chamber of Commerce, the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., and the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, in addition to numerous other business and sportsmen groups.
"We are grateful to Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet for listening to our community and responding to our feedback asking for support of the community-consensus language in the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. The compromise our Congressmen have reached is a good example of democracy at its best. I encourage Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet to continue working together in this bipartisan effort to pass the Hermosa Creek bill."
- Mike Hurst, Carver Brewing Company
"We want to thank Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet for finding a compromise on the Hermosa Creek bill and being responsive to our community needs. We sincerely hope they are able to continue working together to get the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act passed by the end of the year."
- Tim Wheeler, Durango Coffee Company
"Thank you so much to Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet for their work on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. That area is very important to not only us but our customers and our community as well. Great work on finding a compromise that supports all parties involved."
- Miles Venzara, Pine Need Mountaineering
"Both locals and tourists from around the world come to Durango for our incredible access to mountains, forests, and desert ecosystems. Hermosa Creek is a truly exceptional area and a real asset to our community due to its multi-use nature; horsemen, hikers, bikers, hunters and anglers, and off-road vehicles all enjoy the trails in the Hermosa watershed, and we thank Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet in their ongoing efforts to protect it. Preserving Hermosa Creek and our access to it is a priority for our business and local community - we encourage Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennet to continue moving the Hermosa Creek bill forward together."
- Ken Fagerlin, Backcountry Experience