Bill would designate 61K acres of wilderness in San Juan Mountains

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., on Thursday introduced a bill that would provide wilderness and other protections to 61,682 acres in the San Juan Mountains region.

The measure would include additions to the Mount Sneffels and Lizard Head wilderness areas and create an 8,614-acre wilderness area at McKenna Peak in the lower Dolores River Basin.

It also would prohibit oil and gas development on 6,595 acres in Naturita Canyon and designate a special management area for 21,697 acres, including the Ice Lake Basin near Silverton and the high alpine peaks near Ophir. Existing uses, including heli-skiing, would be allowed to continue in the management area, but no new roads or other development would be permitted.

The measure would result in protections for Wilson Peak and Mount Sneffels, two of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks.

All of the proposed wilderness area acreage is within Salazar’s 3rd Congressional District.

Salazar said in a statement Thursday, “San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan County representatives have expressed their hope that a portion of the natural lands that surround them will be given a wilderness designation for future generations. These are the lands which define the character and spirit of our great state and nation and as such, it is my honor today to introduce the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill.”

Besides the three counties, the communities of Ridgway, Ouray, Telluride, Mountain Village, Norwood and Ophir also support the proposal.

It would continue to allow grazing for all areas addressed in the bill and would prohibit creation of any federal water rights and guarantee access to maintain and repair water facilities.

It specifies that the Hardrock 100 trail running race would be able to continue and not be affected by the new protections.

Citizen and conservation groups praised the legislation in a news release Thursday and said it has support from chambers of commerce, ranchers, mountain bikers, outfitters and others.

“Congress considers thousands of bills each year, but few have the overwhelming local support that this legislation has,” said Jeff Widen, associate director of The Wilderness Society’s Wilderness Support Center.


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