Jared Polis to serve on House Resources Committee

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Congressman Jared Polis.

Colorado lawmaker expected to be a pro-environment voice on a panel led conservative Republicans who often undermine federal efforts to manage public lands on the behalf of all Americans

Staff Report

FRISCO — A languishing proposal to create new wilderness areas in the Colorado mountains may get a boost in Congress this year, as U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (CO-02) joins the House Natural Resources Committee.

In the last two years, the committee has been a bastion of anti-government rhetoric, in some cases considering bills that would significantly weaken protection for natural resources and public lands. As a member of the minority, Polis won’t be able to get any meaningful legislation passed on his own, but his pro-environmental voice will be a welcome addition for public lands advocates. Continue reading

Obama pushes for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protection

Conservation plan proposes 12 million acres of new wilderness

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s North Slope.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A far-reaching conservation plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would designate 12 million acres of new wilderness, including critical wildlife habitat along the coastal plains that are home to vast herds of caribou.

On the White House blog, John Podesta and Mike Boots directly addressed the potential threat and disastrous consequences of a major oil spill in the region.

President Obama said he will make an official recommendation to Congress to designate core areas of the refuge – including its Coastal Plain – as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. Watch the President discuss the announcement here.

If Congress chooses to act, it would be the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act more than 50 years ago — but that’s highly unlikely with GOP control of Congress. In fact, Alaska’s pro-development lawmakers have already over-reacted by characterizing the announcement as a war on Alaska’s future, according to the Alaska Dispatch News, which has the best coverage of the story. Continue reading

Colorado: More political diddling over modest land bill

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Will Colorado get a new wilderness area this year?

Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act passed by Senate committee

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In what may become a Christmas miracle, Congress is poised to actually pass a land protection measure before the end of the session. Lawmakers this week said they reached a compromise on a bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed near Durango.

As written, the legislation would create a 70,000-acre special management area and a 37,000-acre Wilderness area in the San Juan National Forest. The compromise includes opening a huge section of alpine backcountry around Molas Divide to snowmobiling. Continue reading

Forest Service to revisit SoCal wilderness protections

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More wilderness in Southern California?

Roadless lands to be evaluated for wilderness qualities

Staff Report

FRISCO —In a rare administrative reversal, regional U.S. Forest Service officials told the Los Padres National Forest to reconsider its plans for seven roadless areas encompassing more than 220,000 acres in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern counties.

The decision directs forest planners to reevaluate the wilderness characteristics of seven areas and clarify how biologists will monitor and protect imperiled wildlife. Continue reading

Federal agencies unveil 2020 wilderness vision

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Wildflowers in the Eagles Nest Wilderness area in Summit County, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Finalizing inventories, planning for climate resilience are high on the agenda

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal land managers say they want complete wilderness area inventories develop climate-change vulnerability and adaptation studies across 110 million acres of wilderness lands in the U.S. in the next five years as part of an interagency wilderness vision for 2020.

The plan is aimed at ensuring continued preservation of the lands that make up the National Wilderness Preservation System across the jurisdictions of various agencies that manage wilderness lands, including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Continue reading

Public Lands: Forest Service chief says journalists won’t have to pay to take photos in wilderness areas

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Sunrise in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Gore Range, Colorado.

Forest Service chief clarifies proposed directive on commercial permits

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —After a few days of scathing news reports and commentaries, the U.S. Forest Service made it clear that a new policy on wilderness photography and filming won’t apply to journalists or visitors taking snapshots for their own use.

The update came from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who said in a prepared statement that the agency is committed to the First Amendment.

“To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities,” Tidwell said, going on to describe the agency’s effort standardize permitting and to ensure that the public gets fair value for commercial activities in wilderness areas. Continue reading

Colorado wilderness bills bottled up in Congress

Half a dozen proposals for land protection span more than 1 million acres

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Proposed new wilderness areas include open meadows on the west flank of the Williams Fork Range. bberwyn photo.

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The proposed Acorn Creek wilderness addition would add important wildlife habitat to the existing high-elevation Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area.

By Bob Berwyn

*Click here to learn more about this weekend’s hike in proposed new Summit County wilderness area

SUMMIT COUNTY — There may be a huge backlog of wilderness bills in Congress, but conservation advocates aren’t about to give up on their efforts to preserve public lands in Colorado. Read more about the political wrangling over wilderness in this Summit Voice story.

In fact, the recent oil and gas boom on the Western Slope has recharged wilderness protection efforts, as supporters rally around the new “equal ground” theme, asking President Obama and Congress to protect at least as many acres as are allocated for energy development.

Along with being ecologically important, protected areas are increasingly seen as critical to the region’s recreation economy. Protected areas also enhance property values in adjacent communities.

In Colorado, there are six proposals that would expand wilderness by more than 1 million acres. The biggest is U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette‘s Colorado Wilderness Act, which includes 31 areas for a total of 750,000 acres, including many chunks of mid-elevation lands that are crucial for wildlife. Continue reading

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