The Colorado Wilderness Act began as the Citizen’s Wilderness Plan, developed by a group of concerned citizens who inventoried federal lands throughout the state to identify pristine lands that met the criteria for Wilderness designation. They met with local communities and other stakeholders to gather input.
The proposal was modified after discussion and was presented to Congresswoman Diana DeGette. She agreed those lands required protection and introduced a bill to designate the areas as Wilderness, which is the strongest level of land protection in the country. The need for this protection has only grown as more people have moved or traveled to Colorado to enjoy the natural splendor there.
Congresswoman DeGette has introduced the Colorado Wilderness Act in every Congress since 1999. The original bill encompassed more than 60 areas; after years of stakeholder input and refinement, the current version protects 33 areas totaling 740,000 acres. Over the years, some areas from the original bill have been protected in separate bills or by executive action, but the remaining areas still require safeguarding. Many of the proposed areas are mid-elevation ecosystems that are underrepresented in currently designated Colorado Wilderness and provide valuable habitat for a staggering variety of plants and wildlife.
The Congresswoman has met with countless stakeholders including off-highway vehicle (OHV) groups, ranchers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, land management agencies, land owners, and local elected officials. She has visited many of these areas with local stakeholders and other members of Congress. These meetings and other input have been integral to refining the Colorado Wilderness Act. The boundaries of proposed areas have been adjusted, and administrative language has been changed. The current proposal balances the interests of stakeholders, including Department of Defense Helicopter Training, mountain bikers and grazing permit holders.
Now more than ever, we need a comprehensive vision for protecting Colorado’s last remaining wild places. Our public lands are under assault from special interest and their allies in Washington, but Coloradans are pushing back. According to the 2018 Conservation in the West Poll, two-thirds of Coloradans see rollbacks of laws that protect our land, water and wildlife as a serious problem for the state.
The new bill reflects the efforts of grassroots activists to update the inventory of Colorado’s lands with wilderness characteristics. The updated borders of the areas capture changing use patterns and reflect the local desire to ensure that these places remain protected for future generations.
• Designates 31 areas in Colorado as Wilderness and two areas as Potential Wilderness, totaling more than 740,000 acres.
• Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “untrammeled by man” and “retaining its primeval character.”
• Wilderness areas are administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unsullied for future use and enjoyment.
• Wilderness designation generally prohibits commercial activities, motorized access, and human infrastructure from wilderness areas, but there are numerous exceptions.
• Language in the bill explicitly states that it does not prohibit or restrict testing and training for HAATS (Military Helicopter Overflights)
• Grazing is permitted to continue in the manner and to the degree that it has historically been done.
• The water language in the bill is the same as was developed recently for the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area and applies only to places determined to be “midstream” areas. What remains are designated “headwaters” areas and use the 1993 Wilderness bill language, which is stricter.
• Most of the areas in the new bill were part of the 2015 version. Table Mountain, San Luis Hills, and Browns Canyon were in older versions of the bill and have been included again. The Powderhorn Addition and Granite Creek areas from the 2015 bill are not included in the current bill.
• The West Elk Addition allows the Blue Mesa reservoir to retain the option to expand.
You can learn more about the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2018 and provide feedback on the Congresswoman’s website, www.degette.house.gov.
A map of the Colorado Wilderness Act: