- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Blame congressional gridlock, at least in part. But the last few years haven’t been good ones when it comes to attempts to add acreage to the nation’s wilderness system.

Wilderness designations require congressional action, and from 2010 forward, just two wilderness areas have been designated, out of 758 total in the 50-year history of the Wilderness Act, according to http://www.wilderness.net.

“I think some of these bills are moving slower than they normally would be, just because of the larger dynamics in Washington, D.C.,” said Scott Miller, senior regional director of the Wilderness Society.

“Wilderness has never been a quick and easy process. . But added to that these days is congressional dysfunction, and land bills are getting hung up in that just like everything else,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale.

But some are holding out at least cautious hope for approval of some legislation designating wilderness in Colorado - among them, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Not surprisingly, the hopes appear to be highest where broad-based, bipartisan support has been procured for measures, often as a result of involvement from diverse interests in early discussions and a willingness to have a bill do more than just create wilderness.

That’s the case with the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act legislation that Tipton is sponsoring, with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., carrying a companion measure in the Senate. The measure targets 108,000 acres north of Durango, but part of its wider support comes from the fact that only about 38,000 of those acres would be designated as wilderness.

“Hermosa Creek really is a landscape management plan. It’s not a wilderness bill. It does have wilderness in it but it’s part of a bigger picture puzzle,” said Scott Jones, who represents several motorized-use groups in Colorado that support the bill.

Their support stems from the fact that the bill also would establish a special management area of some 70,000 acres where motorized uses would be protected.

Tipton this week called the bill a “win-win” approach.

“I think we’re getting a sensible position of actual balance,” he said.

Jones contrasts that measure with the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal pushed several years ago by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. It focused solely on wilderness designation and didn’t propose management areas for motorized use, he said.

Deserved designation

The success that can come from seeking broad-based, bipartisan, public buy-in and making wilderness designation part of a larger package bill was exemplified by Scott McInnis when he represented western Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives. During the 106th Congress in 1999 and 2000, the Republican successfully sponsored three wilderness bills:

- One created the Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area, later renamed in McInnis’ honor, and includes the Black Ridge Wilderness, covering some 75,000 acres.

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