WASHINGTON – A bill to manage and protect resources in the Hermosa Creek watershed brought about something rare these days on Capitol Hill: bipartisan comity.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, joined the state’s two Democrats in the Senate, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, to praise the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The bill is intended to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed in San Juan National Forest through the establishment of a management plan for the watershed.
“Hermosa Creek represents some of the best Colorado has to offer. It deserves a management plan that balances all of the land’s competing uses and gives the local community certainty into the future,” Bennet said in his testimony.
First introduced in April, the bill would designate 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area.
In addition, 38,000 acres of the watershed would be reserved as wilderness. This means the area would be void of road or mineral development and instead can be used for hunting, fishing, horseback riding and nonmechanized recreation.
Grazing also would be allowed in the watershed.
The wilderness designation has gained support from many outdoors groups in the community, including the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000 and Four Corners Back Country Horsemen.
The San Juan and La Plata county commissions, as well as the city of Durango and many environmental and sporting groups also support the measure.
“You may have some controversial bills in front of you today, Mr. Chairman, but this is not one of them,” Bennet said, noting the bill’s widespread support.
Aside from the recreational benefits, Bennet and Tipton touted the economic benefits they believe would flow from the bill’s passage.
“This legislation ensures that areas currently open to snowmobiling in Molas Pass will remain open for future use,” Tipton said. “This will benefit outdoor-recreation enthusiasts and continue to provide an important source of economic activity to our area.”
Without passage of the bill, snowmobile activity on the pass will be phased out during the next two winter seasons.
Tipton has requested a similar hearing for the bill in the House of Representatives.
“Southwestern Colorado is home to some of the most stunning wildlands and important watersheds in the state,” Udall said. “We don’t inherit the land from our parents; we borrow it from our children. So we have a sacred responsibility to use the land responsibly and preserve it where we can.”
Suzanne Gaber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.