Sen. Mark Udall still seeking community consensus for new national forest designations in White River NF
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposal to add more wilderness and other specially designated conservation and recreation areas in the White River National Forest got support from a key economic stakeholder last week, as Vail Resorts announced support for what’s now being called the central mountains wilderness proposal.
“The special nature of the economies in Colorado’s resort communities relies on the successful balance of offering thoughtfully developed recreation opportunities on our public lands with the preservation of pristine wilderness areas,” said Beth Ganz, Vail Resorts vice president of public affairs and sustainability. “Vail Resorts is proud to support this effort to strike that important balance. We believe this proposal and the protections it will provide are critical for Colorado.”
“The areas under consideration in Eagle and Summit counties have been identified as important ecological areas that provide wildlife habitat and serve as our community watersheds, including Hoosier Ridge near Breckenridge and West Lake Creek outside of Edwards. These areas will benefit greatly from the contemplated higher levels of protection and will contribute to the quality of life in our iconic mountain communities,” Vail Resorts announced on its web site.
“I think it’s the right thing that Vail Resorts is stepping in with their support as this proposal takes into consideration the collaboration among many key stakeholders,” said Town of Breckenridge Mayor John Warner. “The proponents of the identified additional wilderness areas really listened to the mountain bike community and preserved trails for them. They also listened to the municipal community so that watersheds could be adequately protected. These wilderness areas are a great addition for Summit County.”
Major conservation groups in Colorado also lauded the ski company for its stance favoring protection of almost 175,000 acres of public lands in Summit and Eagle counties with either wilderness or special management designations.
“Vail Resorts deserves a lot of credit for being a true leader on protecting the future of Colorado’s public lands,” said Michael Carroll, associate director at The Wilderness Society.
“Vail Resorts has to weigh the interests of its customers and employees, as well as the communities it partners with, before backing any type of public lands initiative. This endorsement shows yet again that Sen. Udall’s proposal is good for the environment and the economy,” Carroll said.
“I think one thing nearly everyone who recreates here shares in common is the desire to experience Colorado’s natural beauty and the wildlife it supports,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “Wilderness designation helps protect those common values we share, no matter how we recreate.”
Vail Resorts’ endorsement adds to the already lengthy list of businesses in Summit and Eagle Counties that have urged Udall and Polis to protect ecologically important backcountry lands.
In late 2011, 103 businesses in Pitkin County signed on to a letter urging Colorado’s Congressional Delegation to protect lands outside Carbondale and around Aspen, and 189 businesses in Summit and Eagle County sent a letter to Sen. Udall urging him to work with Rep. Polis and protect lands in those counties.
The Central Colorado Outdoor Heritage Act, which Sen. Udall and his staff is currently vetting in local communities, would protect 32 areas comprising 236,000 acres of public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Summit, Eagle and Pitkin Counties.
The wilderness plan started out as the citizen-driven Hidden Gems wilderness campaign, then was adopted by Congressman Jared Polis as the Summit and Eagle County Wilderness Act before Udall resuscitated the proposal in the Senate.
“Wilderness is good for business,” said Jay Heeter, campaigns coordinator with Colorado Mountain Club. “I’ve personally spoken with more than 100 business based in Summit County who understand that a healthy environment helps them thrive.”
Kurt Kunkle, wilderness coordinator at Colorado Environmental Coalition, said Vail Resorts is on solid ground with its endorsement. “Thousands of residents and visitors in Summit and Eagle counties have endorsed Sen. Udall’s proposal or an earlier version, because they realize that protecting our land and streams and lakes is one of the most significant gifts we can give to future generations.”