Tipton’s bill

Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act deserves swift subcommittee approval

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is scheduled for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on Thursday. It is an important step in the legislative process for this measure that is broadly and deeply supported by local stakeholders and lawmakers alike.

The bill is sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is sponsoring a companion measure in the Senate, where the bill had a hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining in November. Thursday’s hearing will be the measure’s first audience in the House since Tipton introduced the measure in May 2013.

The measure would protect in perpetuity nearly 108,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed north of Durango and does so with three different management tiers. The bill calls for wilderness designation for more than 37,000 acres on the west side of Hermosa Creek, a road-free area of 43,200 acres to the east of the creek, with the remaining land at the north end of the watershed left open to higher impact activities, such as timber harvesting. In total, the act effectively and thoroughly protects a pristine watershed for recreational uses, wildlife habitat and water concerns – each key factors in Southwest Colorado’s economy.

Additionally, the measure would withdraw Perins Peak and Animas City Mountain from federal-mineral leasing, ensuring these two iconic Durango features remain so. That withdrawal, along with the entire Hermosa Creek bill, has the support of local decision-makers and interest groups ranging from La Plata and San Juan counties’ commissioners, the Durango City Council, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, and many other organizations and businesses.

Such wide-ranging enthusiasm reflects the thorough process by which the bill came about. Its passage is well-deserved, and the House subcommittee should heed Tipton’s request and expeditiously move it along for further action.