Dominguez deserves official protection

One of the jewels of the Western Slope will receive additional protection under a bill that passed the Senate last Thursday. Because similar bills have passed the House previously, the measure is not expected to face substantial opposition in the lower chamber.

The Omnibus Public Lands bill was shepherded through the Senate with the substantial assistance of soon-to-be Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. It includes a measure to create the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area on the north flank of the Uncompahgre Plateau between Grand Junction and Delta. Within the national conservation area would be the 66,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area.

Much like the McInnis Canyons NCA west of Fruita, Dominguez-Escalante NCA would include a wide variety of terrain available for a multitude of uses. There is Cactus Park, frequented by off-road vehicle users, horseback riders and occasional mountain bikers. There is the deep chasm of the upper reaches of Dominguez Canyon, utilized mostly by hikers, and there is the more accessible part of the canyon along the Gunnison River. There is horseback riding and fishing, along with long-established grazing.

It is possible to protect all of this disparate landscape and different uses within one designated area only because so many different people and organizations worked together to reach an acceptable compromise on what should be included in the NCA. There were environmental groups and ranchers, motorized vehicle users, congressional staffers and officials with both the Grand Junction and Montrose offices of the Bureau of Land Management. A key to making the whole thing work was the support of the county commissioners from Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties.

Opposition to the measure in the Senate was led by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, a tight-fisted conservative whose ongoing fight against budget earmarks we respect greatly. But, frankly, we don’t understand Coburn’s comments regarding the bill that he was not opposed to wilderness protection, but to the “blatant corrupt process of earmarking.”

There is no funding associated with either the omnibus bill or the Dominguez-Escalante provision. There are no appropriations in which to plug earmarks. While supporters of Dominguez-Escalante and other public lands protected in the bill may hope the designation will mean additional funding in the future, any such money will have to come in later appropriations bills.

In the meantime, kudos to all those who helped move the bill forward. Here’s hoping the House acts on it quickly and lands like Dominguez-Escalante soon receive additional protection.


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