Congress passes wilderness bill; 2 West Slope canyons protected

Dominguez-Escalante is Colorado’s third national conservation area. The others are McInnis Canyons and Gunnison Gorge.

Years of work by western Coloradans finally paid off Wednesday when new protections for the Dominguez Canyon area cleared Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 285-140 in favor of the sweeping Omnibus Public Lands Bill. It now heads to the desk of President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

It includes creation of the 210,000-acre Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area on the Uncompahgre Plateau. The area will include the 60,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness.

The measure also creates nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness within Rocky Mountain National Park.

The wilderness designations are the first in the state since 2002.

Nationwide, the bill designates more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and makes permanent the National Landscape Conservation System, of which the Dominguez-Escalante conservation area will be a part.

Delta, Mesa and Montrose county commissioners sought the conservation area designation, as did other interested parties, such as ranchers and recreationists, Delta County Commissioner Jan McCracken said.

“I just felt it was a good, collaborative effort for all of the different players that use that canyon,” she said.

Grand Junction mountain biker Chris Herrman said the measure protects the area from mineral development while allowing other multiple uses. It promotes economic diversity rather than overreliance on the energy industry, he said.

“Some of these places in western Colorado that give us our quality of life, we just have to set aside for the future,” he said.

The bill passed Wednesday previously was defeated in the House when it failed to win two-thirds approval under a procedure barring amendments.

All of Colorado’s Democratic House members, including John Salazar of Manassa, voted for Wednesday’s measure. Colorado Republicans Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman voted against it.

Coffman worried the bill spends $10 billion to acquire more land when there is a $9 billion maintenance backlog on National Park Service land.

The omnibus bill is a collection of more than 150 bills. Suzanne Jones, regional director of The Wilderness Society, called it “one of America’s biggest environmental accomplishments in two decades and a great victory for Colorado.”

Dominguez-Escalante is Colorado’s third National Conservation Area. The others are McInnis Canyons and Gunnison Gorge.

Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited said 26 million acres nationally have conservation area status. The omnibus bill gives them permanent protection under law, rather than protection by order of presidential administrations, which can be reversed, Hunt said.


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