Hermosa Creek Bill Included in Defense Authorization Act

Bill Language Represents Agreement among Local Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The bipartisan, bicameral bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few remaining bills Congress is expected to debate this year. Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet first introduced the Hermosa Creek bill in 2012 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. Senator Mark Udall is a co-sponsor of the bill.

"We are one step closer to a big victory for folks in Southwest Colorado who have worked together to get this done," Bennet said. "The Hermosa Creek watershed is one of our state's treasures and deserves protection. It's stunning scenic beauty, wilderness and pristine water quality are treasured by many Coloradans. This bill provides for a great diversity of uses, from fishing for native Colorado River cutthroat trout to backcountry hunting and family camping, and from mountain biking and motorcycle riding on world class trails to 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."

Bennet reintroduced the bill last year alongside a companion bill in the House of Representatives introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton. Last November, Bennet and Tipton both testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining in support of the bill.

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 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 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. The bill will also maintain historic snowmobile usage on Molas Pass.

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 Wilderness Society, Southwestern Water Conservation District, San Juan Citizen's Alliance, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Conservation Colorado, Colorado Snowmobile Association, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Durango Chamber of Commerce, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Bull Moose Sportsmen Alliance, American Motorcycle Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., and the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, in addition to numerous other business and sportsmen groups.

"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 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."

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