DeGette has high hopes for protecting lower-elevation acres as wilderness

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A Colorado congresswoman who has been pushing for passage of a Colorado wilderness bill for 11 years says she is optimistic she can get a measure through Congress this fall.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette says the bill she expects to carry will be more narrowly tailored than the 1.6-million-acre version she originally pursued.

“We’ve really tried to focus on areas where we don’t have a lot of issues hanging out there,” the Democrat from Denver said in an interview.

Asked what chance there is of getting a bill passed this fall, she said, “I think it’s high.”

DeGette spoke Tuesday to a Glenwood Springs audience that included the three Garfield County commissioners.

She told them one reason for her optimism is the support she is getting from U.S. Rep Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“He’s very interested in moving some of the wilderness proposals that have been backlogged for many, many years,” said DeGette, who is a member of that committee.

She said she took Rahall to some of the areas she has been seeking wilderness protection for in Colorado, “and he was really impressed.”

DeGette first pursued a bill in 1999 after a coalition brought her a proposal mostly targeting lower-elevation areas under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. Her bill languished when the House and its Natural Resource Committee were under Republican leadership.

Republicans are trying to regain seats, and perhaps the House majority, in this November’s election. DeGette wouldn’t directly say that possibility was a consideration in trying to get her measure passed this fall.

“We hope we don’t lose Congress, but this is when it seems to be right” to pursue the bill’s passage, she said.

She said she is working with other members of Congress in Colorado as she seeks agreement on what areas should be included in the bill.

She addressed Garfield County commissioners Tuesday to ask for their support for including the 21,000-acre Assignation Ridge area south of Carbondale and west of state Highway 133. Part of that area is in Garfield County. Commissioners plan to formally consider her request Monday.

DeGette has been working to find a compromise between the interests of ranchers, mountain bikers and others regarding Assignation Ridge, an area that includes striking vertical slabs of red sandstone.

DeGette previously tried to include the Roan Plateau near Rifle in her bill, but she decided the timing wasn’t right because of ongoing negotiations to settle a lawsuit challenging a BLM decision to allow drilling on and around the plateau top.


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