Congress expected to preserve wilderness

WESTERN COLORADO STREAM SECTIONS, including portions of Big Dominguez Creek, are being evaluated by the BLM for their suitablilty as wild or scenic rivers.



The creation of nearly 210,000 acres of wilderness and national conservation area land around Dominguez Canyon has been a lot of things over the past decade.

Most of all, however, it has been a “long time coming” in the eyes of local conservationists, leaders and public-lands managers.

To the relief of those who have negotiated the plan during the past decade to create a 209,610-acre Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and a 66,280-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area, it is expected to clear its final legislative hurdle this week.

Even as residents and leaders of Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties celebrate the proposal’s likely passage, local leaders recalled that the widely lauded plan had less congenial beginnings.

Former Mesa County Commissioner Doralyn Genova said the stakeholder meetings and studies of how best to preserve Dominguez Canyon began in 1999 after Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Colo., introduced legislation to give the area a wilderness designation.

“We decided instead of letting DeGette run the show … we, who knew our areas, decided we would work on what we thought should go under conservation,” Genova said.

From 1999 on, the county and its peers around the region started meeting with local interest groups to discuss protecting land in and around Dominguez Canyon, former Mesa County commissioner Kathy Hall said.

“In Mesa County we put together a work group and met for months. … That particular area really kind of fit the national conservation area, wilderness just like the (McInnis) Canyons area did,” Hall said.

She said the public came together during the next several years and, with the help of Catherine Robertson, Grand Junction field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, drafted an outline of what a Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area would look like.
“Everybody had a say in that bill,” Delta County Commissioner Jan McCracken said.

Mesa State College professor John Redifer said one of the merits of the area’s two looming designations is both will allow area ranchers to continue using the land as they had prior to this legislation, including grazing.

“I think by and large everybody would be very happy to see this legislation finally passed. It truly captures the spirit of multiple use,” said Redifer, who surveyed the community on the legislative proposal in 2007.

Joe Neuhof, Western Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said when the president signs the bill and creates the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area it will be a relief for everyone involved in this long, complicated process.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

To learn more about S.22, which the House is expected to consider this week, visit the Library of Congress’ Web site, http://thomas.loc.gov.


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