The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District asks U.S. Representative Polis for a delay on the ‘Hidden Gems’ wilderness legislation

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Update: I corrected the headline to read “Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.” Thanks to reader Diane for the information.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The two-year delay, according to a water district letter to Polis, would allow the water district more time to research the potential impacts of a wilderness designation and identify areas where wilderness could hinder the water district’s efforts. “Since wilderness designation creates the highest level of restriction for human activities, including those aimed at protection and restoration of the land and its natural functions, once this designation is created, it is unlikely ever to be undone,” wrote Linn Brooks, assistant general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, to Polis on July 27. “We believe that it is well worth taking this extra time to understand the consequences of such an action.”

Concern with restoration efforts has been heightened in recent years following the Hayman Fire, widespread beetle kill and the emergence of watershed issues related to climate change — all of which have effected peak runoff flows and base flows, presenting a serious threat to the water quality and quantity, according to Brooks.

Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the water district, said wilderness designations have provisions that claim that things such as firefighting and watershed management are still allowed, but she said those provisions look good on paper but rarely get practiced. The water district’s letter says that administrative-process requirements, such as watershed restoration, are “so much greater for activities that take place in wilderness that managers will generally choose to spend their limited funds outside of wilderness where they can accomplish projects with less cost, time and exposure to litigation.”

More Hidden Gems coverage here.

Battlement Mesa: Grand Valley Citizens Alliance endorses Hidden Gems proposal

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From The Aspen Times:

The alliance gets involved in issues that affect life in western Garfield County. It has a membership of 168 area residents, and is a chapter in the broader Western Colorado Congress. The Hidden Gems plan has evolved into a controversial battle between Wilderness advocates and forest user groups that want to preserve existing access to public lands. The proposal would place a special designation on about 400,000 acres in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Summit and Gunnison counties. About 1,600 acres targeted by proponents are located in Garfield County.

More Hidden Gems coverage here.

Gunnison Board of County Commissioners public meeting recap

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From the Crested Butte News (Seth Mensing):

The [Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign] hopes to set aside about 89,000 acres of public land in Gunnison County as designated wilderness. Five of the seven areas being considered would be additions onto established wilderness areas, and two remaining parcels would stand alone. One of the proposed areas, Whetstone, is right outside of Crested Butte and the most contentious part of the proposal for local hikers, bikers and snowmobilers.

Before the commissioners consider a request to draft a letter in support of the proposal, they wanted to hear from all sides of the debate, and they got their wish. People from all sides of the issue packed the commissioner’s meeting room and filled a two-hour timeslot with many disparate points of view…

Right now, nearly 22.6 percent, or 370,000 acres, of Gunnison County’s total 1,618,000 acres of public land is designated as wilderness. The Hidden Gems proposal would increase that by 5.5 percent. The additional wilderness areas being proposed would be added in Gallo Hill, McClure Pass and Treasure Mountain, along with Powderhorn and West Elk additions. The two largest portions of the proposal are more than 54,000 acres in Clear Fork and almost 17,000 acres on Whetstone.

More Hidden Gems coverage here.

Proposed new wilderness additions butting up against transmountain diversion projects

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is watching the proposed wilderness additions closely. Access to current facilities is their worry. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s not easy to get equipment for repairs into the mountain areas right now, even without a wilderness area,” Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is endorsed by more than 40 Western Slope environmental or recreational groups. It seeks to create new wilderness with 14 new areas and 26 areas adjacent to current recreation areas in the White River and Gunnison National Forests and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness areas are in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. If maps by the campaign were adopted, three of the areas adjacent to The Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas could restrict repairs to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project collection system, Hamilton said. “It interferes with existing or deferred parts of the north side collection system,” Hamilton said. “It’s a threat” Creating the wilderness areas could also hinder collection efforts for other importers of water like Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo Board of Water Works, including the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

In a wilderness area, activities like mining or constructing roads are curtailed. The language of the federal Wilderness Act also forbids “establishing or maintaining water facilities.” When legislation created the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area east of Aspen in 1978, corridors along streams were carved out for maintenance of the Fry-Ark Project. In the Hidden Gems proposal, the Wildcat Mountain area would be added to that wilderness area and would have to include the same provisions to be acceptable to the Southeastern district. The Mormon Lake and Woods Creek areas would be added to Holy Cross, which does not have the same sort of carve-outs however, attorney Steve Leonhardt told the Southeastern board.

Here’s an update on Hidden Gems from John Gardner writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Steve Smith, regional director for the Wilderness Society] says that since they first revised the proposal two years ago, the four organizations including the Wilderness Society, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have sought input from as many people and user groups knowledgeable about the lands in the proposal, for further refinement. Smith says that opponents are against wilderness areas in general, and that some are unwilling to compromise. “Not only are we not excluding the motorized folks, we have invited them to participate,” Smith said. “We also are not saying that we are going to toss you off the land. We simply want to know the areas they use, so that we can make adjustments.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here and here.