From The Durango Herald (John Peel):
The Hermosa Creek wilderness bill has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act, again raising hopes among supporters that Congress will pass the bill before the session ends.
The defense act is one of the few remaining bills Congress is expected to debate this year.
“We are one step closer to a big victory for folks in Southwest Colorado who have worked together to get this done,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a news release Wednesday. “The Hermosa Creek watershed is one of our state’s treasures and deserves protection.”
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act would grant protective status to more than 100,000 acres north-northwest of Durango.
Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator with Trout Unlimited and a key proponent of the plan, said Wednesday afternoon that “it’s a great sign.”
He said, however, “Until the votes are cast we can’t count on anything.”
The Associated Press reported that quick passage of the defense bill hit a snag Wednesday over public lands, dividing Senate Republicans.
The $585 billion measure authorizing funds for the military includes several bills to expand wilderness areas in the West and expand the program streamlining natural-gas and oil permits.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, objected to their inclusion and promised to block any attempt to quickly finish the bill next week in the final days of the lame-duck session, the AP reported.
“A bill that defines the needs of our nation’s defense is hardly the proper place to trample on private property rights,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “Nor is it the place to restrict access to hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities on massive swaths of taxpayer-supported lands.”
More Hermosa Creek coverage here.