Dominguez receives legislative thumbs-up

After several unsuccessful attempts by supporters to win approval in both houses of Congress, the massive omnibus public lands bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday and is on its way to President Barack Obama’s desk.

When the president signs the omnibus bill, the 210,000-acre Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area will be established in law. That’s welcome news for this part of western Colorado.

Most of the news stories about the omnibus bill that mention the Dominguez-Escalante
NCA, talk about the 60,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area that will be part of the conservation area. That is an important part of the designation, something that environmental groups and local wilderness advocates have sought for well over a decade.

But Dominguez-Escalante is much more than the wilderness area. The vast majority of the region is open to motorized and bicycle users. There is grazing, as well as fishing and hunting opportunities. There are petroglyphs and waterfalls, stunning vistas of canyons and rivers, and the Gunnison River corridor, with a variety of recreational opportunities. It is not an area that has been targeted for gas drilling or other mineral development.

It was this abundance of terrain and variety of uses that won support for the conservation area from county commissioners in Montrose, Delta and Mesa counties, as well as from ranchers, sportsmen and others.

In that respect, it is similar to McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Fruita, which was formally designated by Congress in 2000 and maintains a multitude of public uses.

The omnibus bill, which includes provisions for 170 separate projects around the country, was not our favorite mechanism for establishing the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. But individual pieces of legislation for Dominguez-Escalante and many of the other projects stalled in Congress last year. So the omnibus bill was created to get them all moving.

Many people have worked hard for years to obtain special protection for the Dominguez-Escalante area. With Wednesday’s action in Congress, it finally appears that will occur.


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