DENVER (AP) – U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Sunday he wants the public to help him craft legislation that would create wilderness and national monument designations for two popular recreation areas in Colorado.
Udall said 32 areas covering almost 236,000 acres in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties in the central mountains are under consideration as wilderness areas. The proposal, which he stressed is in its infancy, includes additions to existing wilderness areas like Holy Cross, Eagles Nest and the Maroon Bells.
“The whole point is we’re going to work in a collaborative, bottom-up process to protect lands that are important to our economy,” he said, referring to Colorado’s tourism industry.
“It’s been proven without a doubt that wilderness is one of the state’s economic drivers.”
The senator, a Democrat, also wants feedback on designating as a national monument 20,000 acres on both sides of the Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista in south-central Colorado, as well as creating wilderness along Browns Canyon, areas known for whitewater rafting.
“It would draw national, international attention to the world-class rafting and outdoor recreation economy,” Udall said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He added a national monument designation “puts a place on the map.”
He also outlined his plans Sunday at a press conference in Frisco.
Meanwhile, Bill Dvorak of Nathrop, an organizer with the National Wildlife Federation and a fishing and rafting guide, said protecting the area for hunters, anglers and rafters is a “no-brainer.”
“Local residents and business owners have been trying for more than a decade, so the time to move forward is now,” he said.
Udall acknowledged that some in Congress are against wilderness designations and national monuments because they think they completely bar human activities on the land.
The Obama administration has come under fire for an internal memo that identified several areas in the West as potential national monuments, and critics had pointed to that as a sign the administration aimed to unilaterally lock up land from development.
But, Udall said, although roads and other manmade infrastructure would be barred under his proposal, ranchers would still be able to graze their cattle, fire suppression would remain unchanged, and existing groundwater systems often would be grandfathered.
He said most of the land is owned by the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and is not being logged or mined, which would be outlawed under either designation.
“The heart of the wilderness concept is that man is a visitor,” Udall said. “Man isn’t the permanent presence.”
– By Thomas Peipert, AP Writer
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