Hidden Gems supporters endorse Polis wilderness plan

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenAugust 27, 2010

Four influential environmental groups are endorsing the new wilderness proposal put forth by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis that seeks to protect 170,000 acres of public lands in Eagle and Summit counties.

Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop joined American conservation powerhouse The Wilderness Society, Denver-based the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Golden-based Colorado Mountain Club on Thursday to announce support for the Polis plan, also called the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act, which is a compromise born from the controversial Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, which seeks to protect up to 342,000 acres of land, including several spots in and around the Roaring Fork Valley.

“While we believe that additional areas deserve protection as wilderness, and look forward to working with the congressman in the near future to secure that protection for those areas, it is important that people support this proposal by Congressman Polis,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, an ardent Hidden Gems backer.

The Polis plan would keep motorized travel and the gas, logging, mining and oil industries out of about 170,000 acres of lands in and around the White River National Forest, plus neighboring lands that conservationists have designated as wilderness-quality and in need of environmental protections. Most of the acreage would be classified as wilderness, though in places where military helicopter training has been ongoing, the land would be given “special management status” designed to keep it pristine.

Red Table between Gypsum and the Fryingpan River, Castle Peak north of Eagle and Spraddle Creek outside of Vail are of particular interest to local conservationists who are backing the Polis plan.

“Congressman Polis' proposal would ensure that these wilderness quality lands are left just as they are today for future generations,” Kurt Kunkle, public lands organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said in a prepared statement. “We urge all members of Colorado's congressional delegation to quickly get behind this effort and work for prompt passage of this legislation.”

The congressman's proposal focuses exclusively on Eagle and Summit counties, and does not address areas in Pitkin and Gunnison counties that the broader Hidden Gems proposal seeks to protect. Eagle and Summit counties are part of the 2nd Congressional District that Polis represents. Pitkin and Gunnison counties are in U.S. Rep. John Salazar's sprawling 3rd Congressional District. Salazar has already introduced the San Juan Wilderness Act that would protect 60,000 acres in and around the spectacularly scenic southwestern Colorado counties of San Juan, Ouray and San Miguel.

“Congressman Polis has worked hard to gather citizen input and craft a wilderness proposal,” said Steve Smith, assistant director of The Wilderness Society in Colorado. “He deserves credit for his willingness to take the desires of his constituents into account and create a proposal that is ready to be moved through Congress.”

The Polis plan is up for further review when Congress returns in September from its summer recess.

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