Down but not out for Dominguez NCA

The vote in Congress this week that temporarily halted efforts to create the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area along the Gunnison River was not primarily about the future of these 209,000 acres of public lands in western Colorado.

It was about Republicans in Congress, including Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn, flexing their muscles to demonstrate Democrats can’t automatically have everything they desire.

In this case, what Democrats wanted — along with a significant number of Republicans — was an omnibus public lands bill, of which Dominguez-Escalante was one small part. The bill would have designated more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states. It would have provided special protections for other, non-wilderness lands, authorized water projects in some areas, and given congressional authority to the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System, under which conservation areas and other special lands are to be managed.

Opponents of the measure did raise some reasonable concerns. One was that the House tried to pass the measure under special, fast-track rules that require a two-thirds vote of the membership. The omnibus bill fell two votes short of the total needed, but there was still a strong majority in favor of it. If the House had put the bill forward under conventional rules, it would have allowed more debate and potential amendments, but there is a very good chance the measure would have passed.

Also, giant omnibus bills that stir a bunch of semi-related public-lands items into one legislative stew are not our favorite way for Congress to conduct business. Better to let each individual item be introduced and move forward on its own. Former Sen. Ken Salazar attempted to do just that last year with Dominguez-Escalante, but the measure stalled — not because of significant opposition but because Congress was busy with many other issues.

This omnibus bill had broad support from people in both parties, which is why it moved quickly through the Senate earlier this year. Lots of people in this region also support the designation of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.  That includes commissioners from Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties, environmental groups, ranchers, recreationists and others.

A spokesman for 3rd District Rep. John Salazar said he expects the measure to be amended and come back for another vote soon.

We hope that, one way or another, the Dominguez-Escalante area will obtain the additional legal protection that it needs.


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