Letter: Wilderness Act would cut off access to land

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Diana DeGette, representing the First District of Colorado, is once again proposing a large swath of land or 890,000 acres be set aside as part of the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2009. You may recall that U.S. Rep. DeGette proposed the same 1.65 million acres in 2007 that the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal continues to solicit today. The 890,000 acres is just a subset of the original 1.65 million acres.
Last week, the Rangely Town Council adopted Resolution 09-3 opposing the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal. This proposal was first brought to light by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, following Mesa County’s adoption of a similar resolution.
Rangely is recognizing that by opposing this movement by the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, the citizens of Rangely and hopefully Rio Blanco County want to continue to have recreational use of areas south of Rangely like Oil Spring Mountain and Big Ridge, which runs along Highway 139 for nine miles and Black Mountain and Windy Gulch northwest of Meeker. The total of these areas is nearly 75,000 acres.
The movement to transform 1.65 million acres in 20 counties and parts of eastern Utah is in full swing. Posted on the Internet Sept. 30 is a position titled, “Grassroots Organizer for the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign,” working for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Inc. This group incorporated in 1976 and initially claimed to be dedicated to working for the permanent protection of wilderness lands, especially in the Aspen area is leading the charge. This group, 30 years later, is now focused on being the conservation watchdog of the White River National Forest and other nearby federal public lands. They claim to be working with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to facilitate the transformation of 1.65 million acres in Colorado and Utah to designated wilderness areas. In talking with Pat Thrasher with the Forest Service, Pat says the USFS’s Land and Resource Management Plan is currently only looking at recommending 82,000 acres to the U.S. Congress for wilderness designation. In order for the 890,000 acres proposed by Rep. DeGette to pass, it must be by unanimous consent of the Washington delegation, made up of all representatives and senators from Colorado.
These are large swaths of land that would be locked out to a large segment of users in the name of wilderness. Apparently, the folks at the Wilderness Workshop are using “The Wilderness Act” as a way of locking folks out of their own land. An article written by Kenneth Upchurch in the Aspen Daily News claims the Wilderness Workshop is made up of elitists who believe they only have the answers for our public lands. This group is trying to talk the governor into withdrawing his support for the negotiated Roadless Rule.
Colorado already has 4.1 million acres of roadless areas and another 3.3 million acres designated Forest Service Wilderness. The question that many are asking is when is enough, enough. This is one of many proposals that could affect our enjoyment of the lands in Rio Blanco County and many other areas throughout the state.
We are urging the citizens and governmental entities of Rio Blanco County to oppose “The Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal” by contacting your representatives and delegation to Washington.
Peter Brixius
Rangely Town Manager