Includes 38,000 Acres of Designated Wilderness Lands
WESTERN SAN JUANS – Last week, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a bill designed to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill includes the designation of 38,000 of those acres as federally protected wilderness lands.
Introduced on Wednesday, July 18, the bill would establish a long-term management plan based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Working group, which is comprised of diverse stakeholders including local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders, and other interested citizens.
“The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act governs the entire 108,000-acre watershed and includes provisions to allow for multiple uses like timber harvesting for forest health, access and trails for off-trail vehicles and more mountain bikers,” Bennet said during the bill’s introduction. “The bill also adds nearly 40,000 acres to the national wilderness preservation system – lands that provide unique and important opportunities for solitude and reflection. Lands that will remain undeveloped forever, so they’ll always have clear streams to fish and lush forests for an outfitter to take clients into the wilderness on horseback.”
The bill, which is cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, selective timber harvesting and grazing.
In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed. The Wilderness Act also contains several provisions to provide for active land management in wilderness areas as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.
Finally, at the request of the Durango City Council, the bill would protect Animas Mountain and Perins Peak near Durango from future federal mineral leasing.
“The residents of Durango support Senator Bennet’s legislation to protect Hermosa Creek in a way that respects the variety of interests in our community,” said Durango City Councilor Christina Rinderle in a statement released by Bennet’s staff. “We especially appreciate the inclusion in this bill of a provision the City of Durango formally requested to put our cherished local icons Animas Mountain and Perins Peak off limits to oil and gas development.”
Other supporters of the bill include La Plata and the San Juan boards of county commissioners, the International Mountain Biking Association and The Durango Herald editorial board.
“I am pleased to carry this bill on behalf of the people of Colorado and especially proud because this was a community-driven process at its very finest, through and through, from beginning to end,” Bennet said. “Colorado wrote this bill. This bill wasn’t written in Washington, D.C. The bill has grown from the grass roots up. Republicans, Democrats and independents working together to cement a long-term plan for the community’s future.”
To see a map of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection area or for more information on the bill, visit bennet.senate.gov/hermosacreek/.